Changemaking at St. Thomas: All for the Common Good

May 4, 2017 / By: Margie Siegel, Center for Nonprofit Management, University of St. Thomas
two students sit across from some senior citizens at a park in india


St. Thomas’ mission to “advance the common good” has always resonated with me. Through my work in the Center for Nonprofit Management, I strive to increase the reach of St. Thomas’ positive impact in communities near and far. Therefore, I was delighted to be able to participate in St. Thomas’ first-time Social Entrepreneurship program in Mumbai, India, in January 2017.  Our team -- composed of nine undergraduate students and five MBA students, and led by Entrepreneurship professors Mo Fahnestock and Laura Dunham, with my support – helped to realize St. Thomas’ mission abroad by sharing time, energy, and expertise with five different NGOs serving communities in Mumbai.

What is Social Entrepreneurship? Essentially, it encompasses two types of activity:  it includes for-profit ventures that hold a central, specified social mission or strive to significantly impact a social or environmental challenge alongside regular, expected financial returns; and, it covers nonprofit or traditional service organizations that seek to build some sustainable stream of revenue or truly innovative mechanism or system that will support or amplify the mission-driven work. Social Entrepreneurship exists at the intersection of nonprofit and for-profit business, and incorporates some of the best practices and aspirations of both sectors.

How do St. Thomas students meaningfully engage in Social Entrepreneurship abroad? Several key components led to the success of our endeavors in India:

  • A group of passionate, motivated, smart, and open-minded students;
  • Partner organizations that were candid, accessible, and ready to try new, innovative strategies to move forward on their goals;
  • An academic course framework students could use to analyze the challenges, focus in on an area of impact, and move forward with solutions and scaling; and,
  • Solid, visionary institutional support, led by Prem Chandrani, professor of International Relations at SP Jain Institute of Management & Research in Mumbai and by the Office for Study Abroad at St. Thomas. Professor Chandrani and SP Jain vetted the NGOs with whom we collaborated, so that our group was able to hit the ground running.

With these measures in place, teams of two to three St. Thomas students provided substantive, innovative solutions to specific business challenges faced by our NGO partners in just three and a half weeks. Using the process outlined in Jake Knapp’s Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days, teams successfully addressed clients’ critical challenges by designing, prototyping, and testing ideas within a very compressed timeframe.

For Om Creations, an NGO that serves artists with disabilities, our MBA student-team designed, prototyped, and launched an online storefront for selling handcrafted products on India’s version of

Here, the MBA student team use the Sprint process to map out strategy for Om Creations:

Three students in front of whiteboard

A team of undergraduates worked with Aseema schools – a group that has brought Montessori teaching methodologies to children in slum neighborhoods in Mumbai. St. Thomas students helped Aseema increase its social media presence by performing data analytics and enhancing their Facebook posts. Aseema’s two highest ‘liked’ posts of the past year were written and posted by our team.  

Here’s a photo of an Aseema classroom:

A teacher and a student working on a puzzle

Another undergraduate team conducted research for the Nani Nani Foundation, a group that strives to improve the lives of the elderly in Mumbai and across India. The team visited area parks designed for senior citizens and run by the foundation, where they interviewed visitors about their situations and what they found to do at the parks.  

Here, members of an undergraduate team interview seniors in the Nani Nani Park:

two students sit across from some senior citizens at a park in india

The students who participated in this inaugural program worked respectfully, efficiently, and purposefully to implement innovative solutions for their NGO partners. By sharing their passion and talents, students animated the mission of St. Thomas with their skillful, wise and inspiring actions, demonstrating how working “all for the common” good can uplift people in settings very different from our local communities. The program provided a distinct opportunity for St. Thomas’ commitment to changemaking to flourish and delivered on St. Thomas’ mission to prepare students to “think critically, act wisely, and work skillfully to advance the common good.”

Registration for next year’s trip to study social entrepreneurship in India are open right now and there are only 20 seats available - Find more info at: 2018 Social Entrepreneurship in India J-Term Class.

Margie Siegel is the Director of the Center for Nonprofit Management in the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship and a member of the St. Thomas Change Team.

Photo credits:  Mo Fahnestock