Every summer, the faculty of Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business’ Institute for Leadership and Entrepreneurship leads a group of undergraduates on an educational experience in Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic.
Through classroom lectures, site visits, and close work with a nonprofit organization, students learn about how social enterprises and nonprofit institutions work and what type of leadership is effective in this sector.
Each May, participating students begin the Leadership for Social Good program on the Georgia Tech campus, where they get “basic training” on social entrepreneurship and an overview of the Eastern European situation. This includes site visits to Atlanta-area organizations such as the United Way and Habitat for Humanity – the same sort of organizations they will be studying and working with later in the program.
Once in Europe, the lectures and site visits continue as participants work eight to 10 hours a week on a project with a partner nonprofit in Hungary. This summer students visited the United Way and Habitat for Humanity branches in Hungary, plus NESsT, an incubator for social enterprises; the children’s camp Bátor Tábor; Junuv Statek, a job-creator for people with disabilities; children’s education foundation Stowarzyszenie Siemacha; the philanthropy promoter Via Foundation, and others.
“We've gotten a good idea,” one student wrote on the class blog in June, “of what a social enterprise is, business models and funding, investments, what makes up a strong board, and a few of the differences between the laws surrounding nonprofits here versus abroad.”
For the four weeks students spent in Budapest working with their nonprofit organization, they had the opportunity to see how the theory they learned in the classroom worked in practice, witnessed the challenges small organizations face on a daily basis, and contributed to solving those problems.
The number one challenge mentioned by nearly every team was dealing with differences in European versus American work cultures, but students also had to adapt to the unstructured nature of the work, which they said demanded a high level of self-determination and time management.
Rather than being presented with a list of tasks, they were offered opportunities to contribute to the high-level problems and goals of the organizations, and given wide latitude to decide how to go about their work. For several students, this was in sharp contrast to previous work experiences in corporate settings.
Another common observation concerned the lack of funding available to these organizations, and the need to stretch their resources as far as possible. That’s why many of these students made their way to the free resources of the World Wide Web, particularly for research and marketing tasks.
According to business administration major Sarah Wissing, “Working with a nonprofit in Budapest taught me a great deal about working within international teams. I will take this knowledge and apply it to my future career when I am working in a team setting. This program also exposed me to several different leadership styles. I will take this analysis and work to become the best leader I can as I progress through my career."
She adds, "This trip helped me gain critical experience working and living in an international city, where I was not familiar with the culture or language. The experience pushed me to grow as an individual and expanded both my professional and personal goals.”
Marisa Olson, an international affairs and economics major, and industrial engineering major Lydia Wilmer interned with Matyo Designs, a fashion designer that combines contemporary style with traditional Hungarian “matyo” style embroidery. The company helps employ women in rural villages where unemployment numbers are the highest in the country.
The two Tech students assisted the company in its efforts to sell products globally by researching trade laws and regulations of the countries that Matyo Designs hopes to sell to, and by creating a page for them on Pinterest.
Business administration major Niki Arjmand worked with Ökoszolgálat, or EcoService, during her time in Budapest (teaming with Catherine Freeman, a student from another university). EcoService was one of the first organizations of its kind in Hungary to offer eco-consulting, promoting green initiatives for both corporate and residential clients. The students helped them develop the firm’s social media presence, expanded their visibility on the Web, and researched domestic and international partners for the organization.
Environmental engineering major Katie McCoy and public policy major Samantha Holloway interned with CEEweb for Biodiversity, a Budapest-based network of NGOs that works to preserve biodiversity by promoting sustainable development in Central and Eastern Europe. They assisted CEEweb with a project that is creating partnerships with businesses to promote green development, and to integrate CSR into their operational strategies.
Business administration major Sarah Wissing assisted the Center for Independent Journalism, an organization that promotes ethical journalism in Hungary. There, she learned about the situation of the Roma population in Southeast Europe and the role of a free and balanced media in protecting minorities.
Business administration majors Katarina Jenkins and Hannah Keith worked with KAPTÁR (“Beehive” in Hungarian), a community workspace in Budapest. Jenkins says that “the courses I took as part of the program were incredibly refreshing in that we studied ways to create social value as well as the challenges faced by nonprofit and social enterprise organizations.”
Program Co-director Dori Pap says “all of our participants came to the program with widely varied skillsets and training, but all were able to apply the work ethic, problem-solving abilities, and persistence typical of Georgia Tech undergraduates. This has been another incredibly successful and productive summer for us, and we’re already mapping out plans for summer 2015.”
Study abroad is a life changing experience for any student, but many times those who would benefit from it the most are the least likely to afford it, Pap notes. The Leadership for Social Good Program is bridging that gap by offering the Munchak scholarship (which honors the legacy of Tedd Munchak) for those with financial need.
The Program also received a grant from the P&G Fund of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation that provided support to several students on the program, and some of students benefitted from the generosity of various funding available on campus, like the Orraca Dum scholarship and support from the Bellamkonda Lab.