We interviewed Dr Yuwei Shi, visiting professor of the Sustainability Week (previously called the International Week) course Social Enterprise Business Model Design. Dr Shi is Professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California (U.S.) and Research Director of 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.
Dr Shi has taught graduate and executive level management programmes across a dozen countries and won two teaching awards. He also has had more than 15 years of experience building successful products, programmes and companies as a startup founder, management consultant, and dean of graduate school.
Dr Shi’s course focuses on a business model design framework based on human-centred design thinking, business exchange networks and strategic management.
You have extensive experience in building successful products, companies and programmes. What are you most proud of?
In the education realm, I’m most proud of teaching in graduate and executive-level management programmes across a dozen countries, which began with a non-degree certificate programme (Frontier Market Scouts Fellowship Program). I’ve seen first-hand the emerging movement from “impact rhetoric” to “impact management”, and take pride in being one of the pioneers in impacting management education.
Can you tell us a bit more about the Frontier Market Scouts Fellowship Program?
This is an open programme that teaches people about how social enterprise and impact investing are managed in emerging markets. In the programme, “emerging market” is defined as a place or sector that is beginning to experiment with market-based solutions to some social, environmental, economic or political problem. The programme 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.
What does a successful business model 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 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 does the future hold for social enterprises?
Like it or not, all companies in the future will need to be socially and environmentally conscious and responsible to ensure long-term viability. Society demands it. Technology enables it. And it’s good for everyone.
What can our participants learn about design thinking in your course?
Design thinking is better learned as a practice instead of a theory. While there is a theory of force and motion, it doesn’t help you much when learning to ride a bicycle; you just have to ride it to learn how. In this course, the students will learn about design thinking through experiential learning by completing a design project.