Mar 152018

Yuwei Shi: “Society demands social and responsible companies”

Ph.D. Yuwei Shi teaches a workshop on social enterprise business model design in the EADA's International Week 2018.

Ph.D. Yuwei Shi teaches a workshop on social enterprise business model design in the EADA’s International Week 2018.

EADA’s International Week 2018 includes a workshop that helps participants obtain knowledge and skills in business model design and development. This is conducted by Ph.D. Yuwei Shi, professor at Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey in California (USA) and research director at Middlebury’s Center for Social Impact Learning. He founded the Frontier Market Scouts Fellowship Program that won the 2013 Ashoka-Cordes Award for Innovation in Social Entrepreneurship Education. Shi has more than 15 years of experience in building successful products and running up startups, apart from in management consultancy.

You have a lot of experience in building successful products, companies and programs. What are you most proud of?
In the education realm, I’m most proud of teaching graduate and executive level management program across a dozen countries, which began with a non-degree certificate program (Frontier Market Scouts Fellowship Program). I’m interested in social entrepreneurship and impact investing. I’ve noticed the emerging movement from “impact rhetoric” to “impact management” and take pride in being one of the pioneers in impacting on management education.

Can you tell us a bit more about the Frontier Market Scouts Fellowship Program?
This is an open program that serves people to learn about how social enterprise and impact investing are managed in emerging markets. Our notion of emerging market being a place or sector that begins to experiment market-based solutions to some social, environmental, economic or political problems. The program has some of the leading practitioners in the field as instructors and dozens of social enterprises and impact investment firms as placement partners to help those fellows who desire in-field experience after the intensive two-week training. In addition, the program’s Alumni network is 400 plus – fellows strong and active.

Shi has taught graduate and executive level management programs across a dozen of countries.

Shi has taught graduate and executive level management programs across a dozen of countries.

How do the business model and design of a social enterprise look like?
I was initially trained as an engineer, so I’d like to use an engineering analogy. A venture idea is like a product idea that is nothing but an unpatentable, perhaps uncopyrightable idea, unless you embody the essence of the idea in at least a prototype, so that your business partners, investors, and employees can visualize, feel and contemplate. The business model design is, in essence, a process to build a prototype that embraces a venture idea. Of course, no decent prototype will be built without multiple iterations, so that the key to successful business model design is not only the brilliance of the design team but its ability to master experiments, trial and error, just like good engineers.

What are the main differences between China and Europe in social businesses? And compared to the USA?
As mentioned earlier, I’ve observed a subtle but growing focus on impact management. Furthermore, impact intention remains first and foremost to social businesses. The debate on whether “impact” or “finance” first is being balanced with how the two may be synergized or managed simultaneously. The conversation is turning less ideological and more practical. I personally welcome the change, although without downplaying the importance of the ideological debate.

What can our participants learn about design thinking in this course?
Design thinking is better learned as a practice instead of a theory. While there is a theory of force and motion, it helps you little learning how to ride a bicycle. You just have to ride it to learn how. In this course the students will learn about design thinking through a design project. It’s an experiential learning.

What is the future of social companies?
Like it or not, all companies in the future will need to be socially and environmentally conscious and responsible to ensure long-term viability. The society demands it. The technology enables it. And it’s good for everyone.

How do you deal with the tradeoff between purpose and profit?
Discover and dig deep into the tradeoff. Use your creative might to eliminate the tradeoffs. Try really hard before resorting to the balancing act.

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