BYU Hosts First-Ever Social Innovation Competition

Feb 23 2011

The University of Michigan receives top honors


An impoverished woman learns a trade to pay for her child's college education. An orphan receives therapy for his speech impediment. A homeless teen has daily meals and a bed of his own. As participants in the new Innovation in Social Entrepreneurship Case Competition at Brigham Young University can attest, the finer things in life often don't come with a dollar sign.

The competition, hosted by the Ballard Center for Economic Self-Reliance, challenged MBA students to measure the often unmeasureable benefits of social ventures — such as improved health, education and happiness. Competitors put their in-class training to a real-world test by creating a model for Fundación Paraguaya to calculate its social return on investment and better appeal to financiers. The University of Michigan received top honors for their model.

"The competition and its participants demonstrate the value of MBA programs with a conscience," says Martín Burt, executive director of Fundación Paraguaya, a nonprofit organization focused on entrepreneurship in Paraguay. "These students want to use their skills to change the world — and the skills are important because governments, companies and legislators with budgets need to know where to best invest their money."

Martín Burt, executive director of Fundación Paraguaya, and other judges from both corporate and nonprofit sectors analyze students’ models for SROI measurement.
Martín Burt, executive director of Fundación Paraguaya, and other judges from both corporate and nonprofit sectors analyze students’ models for SROI measurement.
Unlike most hypothetical or historical cases, the ISE competition features a "live" case, where a solution to a current problem has yet to be determined.

Over two days, teams from BYU, the University of Washington, the University of Michigan and George Washington University analyzed past successes of Fundación Paraguaya's programs, created a model for measurement and applied their model to other possible ventures such as building schools, buying land and funding microfinance programs. The finalist teams worked late into the night to perfect their presentations.

After an intense 48 hours of preparing and presenting, the University of Michigan won the inaugural competition. George Washington University, Burt's alma mater, placed second, respectively, with another viable model for measurement.

Fundación Paraguaya representatives were extremely pleased with the four team's analyses. According to Burt, Fundación Paraguaya plans to blend the strengths of each model to gauge its SROI.

Ira Shaugnessy and Jonathan Huynh, first-year MBAs from the University of Michigan, are the first-place winners of the inaugural Innovation in Social Entrepreneurship Case Competition.
Ira Shaughnessy and Jonathan Huynh, first-year MBAs from the University of Michigan, are part of the first-place winning team of the inaugural Innovation in Social Entrepreneurship Case Competition. Team members Raelynn Jacobson and Martha Campbell are not pictured.
The judges were particularly impressed with students' creativity and sensitivity in assigning a monetary value to things such as happiness, health and quality of life.

"The contestants recognized the nuances and difficulty involved in trying to create a one-size-fits-all model for SROI measurement," says Lewis Hower, a judge for the competition and executive director of the University Impact Fund. "This event was a sign of things to come in which innovative and new models can be developed to cater to growing market demands."

Ira Shaughnessy, a first-year MBA student from the University of Michigan, found many benefits to the competition. In addition to receiving a hand-woven blanket from Paraguay for his team's first-place presentation, Shaughnessy engaged with like-minded individuals and applied his business skills in a meaningful cause. "This is why I came to business school," he says, "to combine my love for international development with the business skills that can really improve existing endeavors and make a difference."

The Marriott School is located at Brigham Young University, the largest privately owned, church-sponsored university in the United States. The school has nationally recognized programs in accounting, business management, public management, information systems and entrepreneurship. The school's mission is to prepare men and women of faith, character and professional ability for positions of leadership throughout the world. Approximately 3,000 students are enrolled in the Marriott School's graduate and undergraduate programs.

Contact Joseph Ogden (801) 422-8938
Writer: Carrie Akinaka