Finally, we have enough critical mass and votes for a social impact course for the West cohort. I am proud of Class 37 for this accomplishment. This weekend we had Nien-hê Hsieh, associate professor of legal studies and business ethics, with us for three sessions of his class on Social Impact and Responsibility. The class seeks to give us an overview of how to think about social impact work being done by nonprofits, through corporate social responsibility (CSR), social entrepreneurship and impact investing. We also got quick clarifications on the different shades of gray between these different paths toward social impact.

We started off with an interesting case on SKS Microfinance. We had a vigorous conversation in class on the various aspects of this issue, and this set up an interesting normative framework to evaluate actions of entities along the gray line between exploitation and empowerment. It identifies the three core ideas of efficiency, fairness and freedom. We also briefly considered how it leaves out other values such as community, as found in Asian philosophy, and going further to value the environment. It also did not go as far as to discuss other concepts from normative ethics such as utilitarianism or Schweitzer’s Reverence for Life, but our discussion still provided a good context to evaluate businesses and their actions against the metrics of not doing any harm and respecting the choices of others.

Prof. Nien-hê Hsieh

Prof. Nien-hê Hsieh

We touched upon Theory of Change and how that is driving organizations to evaluate their existence all the way from inputs, activities and outputs to outcomes and impact. My sense of this is that, though this sounds better than the alternative of doing nothing, focusing too much on being able to quantify impact results in NPOs pivoting to implement projects that can be measured and reported on, versus projects that are decided upon through participatory discussions with their target communities

After many years of volunteering with Asha, NVIDIA Foundation, Mindful Schools and other groups, this gave me a good setting to finally take the time to look back and evaluate all the mistakes I have made in the past and see how things could be done better and what gaps I could see in where the industry is headed.

Prof. Hsieh seems to be doing some really interesting work around CSR and the day-to-day operations of corporations and assessing their footprint and making that more socially relevant. He spoke to us briefly about ongoing work (including his own) on what the obligations of transnational corporations are toward human rights.

I can’t wait for similar upcoming social impact sessions. Class 38 and those that follow, keep the light shining and vote for these classes.