25 Mar 2009
Harvard Business School Selects Inaugural Recipient of Social Entrepreneurship Fellowship
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Elizabeth and her team in Rwanda
seeking more cost-effective local
raw materials to lower the price
of expensive, imported sanitary
pads.
Photo: Hannah Brice

BOSTON — Elizabeth Scharpf (MBA 2007) has been named the first Harvard Business School Social Entrepreneurship Fellow for her work in launching Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE). SHE is a platform for starting businesses that use innovative, market-based approaches to tackle socio-economic and public health problems in developing countries. Scharpf started SHE in late 2007 based on the belief that charitable efforts alone are not enough to address the breadth and complexity of socio-economic and health problems that exist in developing countries.

The HBS Social Entrepreneurship Fellowship program is designed to support the efforts of recent HBS graduates who are launching social enterprises - nonprofit, for-profit, or hybrid organizations - with a central focus on the creation of social value. This pilot program provides seed funding support to one recent graduate each year through a $25,000 fellowship.

The first SHE venture addresses the widespread phenomenon of girls and women missing school or work when they are menstruating because they lack access to affordable sanitary pads. Currently working in Rwanda, SHE is developing a sanitary pad sourced from local materials to be sold for 30 percent less than currently available brands. Local Rwandan women will manufacture and market these pads and gradually become owners of the business through microfinance loans.

"In interviews with more than 500 women and girls in Rwanda, we found that half of the girls interviewed are missing school due to menstruation, primarily because sanitary pads are too expensive," said Scharpf. "Lack of access to pads affects not only the prospects of girls and women, it also has significant macro-economic consequences for countries - in fact, we estimate a $115 million loss in GDP per year in Rwanda alone.

"SHE expects that this rate is comparable in other resource-poor countries and we plan to undertake similar efforts in those countries," Scharpf continued. "It is an honor to be Harvard Business School's first Social Entrepreneurship Fellow. These resources will help SHE succeed during this critical phase of our pilot roll-out."

The Social Entrepreneurship Fellowship is designed to fit within the array of already established programs that support HBS students in pursuit of new social ventures - a career path that is increasingly being explored by recent graduates. As an example, since the founding of the Social Enterprise Track of the HBS Business Plan Contest in 2001, nearly one-third of the contest entrants have gone on to pursue some form of implementation of their plan and several have done so through the pursuit of stand-alone social ventures immediately or soon after graduation.

"The Harvard MBA curriculum provides students with a variety of learning opportunities that prepare them for future roles in social enterprise. Beyond second-year electives, students also have options to develop a business plan for a social venture - such as taking part in a faculty-supervised field-based learning project, entering the Social Enterprise Track of the annual HBS Business Plan Contest, or participating in the Social Enterprise Summer Fellowship program," said HBS Professor William Sahlman, one of the faculty co-chairs of the new program. "And now, with the Social Entrepreneurship Fellowship, HBS can continue to provide support to entrepreneurial MBAs post graduation in their pursuit of their social ventures."

The HBS Social Entrepreneurship Fellow is selected annually through a competitive process. Fellowship applicants must submit an application along with a business plan that focuses on creating social value. The business plans are judged on their likelihood of success, social value creation, resources, and performance measurement. During the year of their Fellowship, award winner must dedicate the majority of their time to the launch of their new venture.

To be considered for the next fellowship, candidates must submit a complete application, resume, and business plan by June 15. Going forward, announcement of the Fellowship will be made by the end of August each year.

About Elizabeth Scharpf
Founder and CEO of Sustainable Health Enterprises, Elizabeth Scharpf is an entrepreneur who has spent most of her professional career starting up ventures or advising businesses on growth strategies in the health care industry. Scharpf has spent time as a strategic management consultant at Cambridge Pharma Consultancy as well as stints at the Clinton Foundation and the World Bank in Asia and East Africa, respectively. She was a Fulbright Scholar in Austria, where she studied the effects European Union expansion on Austria's healthcare system. Sharpf has an MBA from Harvard Business School, an MPA in international development from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and a BA from the University of Notre Dame.

About the HBS Social Enterprise Initiative
Grounded in Harvard Business School's mission to educate leaders who make a difference in the world, the Social Enterprise Initiative aims to inspire, educate, and support current and emerging leaders in all sectors to apply management skills to create social value. Through an integrated approach to social enterprise-related teaching, research, and activities at HBS, the Social Enterprise Initiative engages with leaders in the nonprofit, for-profit, and public sectors to generate and disseminate practicable resources, tools, and knowledge with the ultimate goal of bettering society. The Social Enterprise Initiative's strategic objectives range from building the world's best faculty dedicated to social enterprise research and teaching to providing learning experiences that not only increase the effectiveness of social-sector executives, but also tap into the potential for social value creation among the entire community of HBS students and alumni.