Stu­dents led by Dennis Shaugh­nessy, exec­u­tive pro­fessor of entre­pre­neur­ship and inno­va­tion in Northeastern’s Col­lege of Busi­ness Admin­is­tra­tion, have been changing the lives of impov­er­ished people in South Africa and the Dominican Republic for the last sev­eral years.

Just don’t call it charity.

We go into poor com­mu­ni­ties and instead of giving charity or aid, we help them improve their lives through entre­pre­neur­ship,” Shaugh­nessy explained. “What we do is dif­ferent: Instead of telling people how to change their lives, we invest in them.”

This year marks the fifth year that Northeastern’s Social Enter­prise Insti­tute, which runs the five-​​week summer field pro­grams, has been working in South Africa and the fourth in which it has been working in the Dominican Republic. Stu­dents from across the uni­ver­sity pre­pare for the expe­ri­en­tial learning oppor­tu­nity with months of rig­orous aca­d­emic work, learning the the­o­ret­ical basis for micro­fi­nance and small-​​scale entre­pre­neur­ship before tran­si­tioning into the field.

The Social Enter­prise Insti­tute, Shaugh­nessy said, is com­mitted to building the next gen­er­a­tion of busi­ness leaders, both here and in devel­oping coun­tries, through real-​​world pro­grams that con­nect stu­dents to poor people who want an oppor­tu­nity to change their lives.

You can talk about theory, but you don’t fully under­stand the field until you’re there, expe­ri­encing it in real life,” said Rebecca Willet, a senior inter­na­tional affairs and anthro­pology com­bined major who trav­eled to the Dominican Republic ear­lier this summer with Shaughnessy’s program.

In the Dominican Republic, stu­dents use a micro­fi­nance model to help poor farmers — who in some com­mu­ni­ties live with an unem­ploy­ment rate of nearly 100 per­cent — rise from poverty. In South Africa, the insti­tute pairs with a non­profit orga­ni­za­tion and the Ter­tiary School in Busi­ness Admin­is­tra­tion, a non­profit busi­ness school that helps South Africans who lack access to oppor­tu­nity. The goal of the stu­dents’ work there, Shaugh­nessy, said, is to help entre­pre­neurs build their own busi­nesses, with some get­ting cash grants to help them grow.

Over the summer, 45 North­eastern under­grad­u­ates and 35 TSiBA stu­dents worked together over an inten­sive two-​​week span, pro­viding con­sulting ser­vices to these microen­tre­pre­neurs. Stu­dents helped the impov­er­ished busi­ness owners design web­sites, develop accounting sys­tems and create busi­ness plans.

Entre­pre­neurs were selected based on their com­pa­nies’ poten­tial to create des­per­ately needed jobs in their communities.

In my co-​​ops at the EU Par­lia­ment, the White House and the MacArthur Foun­da­tion, I learned about social impact investing and entre­pre­neur­ship, but I had never really under­stood what it meant on the microlevel,” said Laura Mueller-​​Soppart, a senior eco­nomics and polit­ical sci­ence com­bined major. “But working on the ground with a microen­tre­pre­neur­ship, you see how this is lit­er­ally changing lives.”

This July, Mueller-​​Soppart was paired with a South African wid­ower who had run a boarding house and shuttle ser­vice prior to his wife’s death. He strug­gled to main­tain the busi­ness after his wife passed away, and Mueller-​​Soppart helped him restruc­ture his busi­ness and create a mar­keting plan.

Before we had even left, he had already gained a new year­long tenant,” Mueller-​​Soppart said.

The ven­tures in South Africa were all rel­a­tively small, but they have the poten­tial to res­onate on a much larger level. One man, for example, devel­oped a system that uses worms to cheaply gen­erate fer­til­izer in a country where arid ter­rain makes it oth­er­wise dif­fi­cult to sup­port agri­cul­ture. The con­ti­nent, more­over, does not have a single fer­til­izer plant, meaning the supply is usu­ally pro­hib­i­tively expensive.

Stu­dents working in the Dominican Republic also spent a week in Cuba, where they devel­oped cre­ative solu­tions for aspiring entrepreneurs.

Shaugh­nessy said the goal of the pro­gram is broader than helping indi­vid­uals escape from poverty. By helping foster new busi­nesses, he believes the Social Enter­prise Insti­tute can lift entire com­mu­ni­ties toward prosperity.

We see fam­i­lies without food, com­mu­ni­ties where chil­dren die from mal­nu­tri­tion at enor­mous rates,” he said. “Fos­tering an entre­pre­neur can change the life of more than just one person.”