MBA Students Explore the Business of Humanity®

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Business of Humanity® Project (BoH Project) is based on the premise that businesses can maximize wealth creation for shareholders by creating products and services that improve the lives of people at the bottom of the economic pyramid. In other words, put people first and profits will follow.

This humanistic mindset works well for a couple of reasons, says John Camillus, a BoH co-principal and the Donald R. Beall Professor of Strategic Management at the University of Pittsburgh Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business.

First, it works in emerging markets and developing nations. These environments are hotbeds for economic growth, with the aggregate purchasing power of the bottom of the pyramid equaling trillions of dollars. Second, because many affected individuals have abysmally low incomes, success in this environment requires frugal innovation and new business models, which are promoted by BoH strategies. Third, BoH also stimulates innovative business models in developed economies by harnessing disruptive technologies and capabilities created by connecting innovation ecosystems across industries, such as energy and health, and across developed and emerging markets.

Camillus brings the BoH to life for MBA students at the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business through his three-credit MBA elective, “The Business of Humanity®: Strategic Management in the Era of Globalization, Innovation, and Shared Value.”  In the course, students create their business ventures employing BoH strategies and develop them over the course of the semester.

MBA Students Visit Homewood

Produce grown in the bio-shelterStudents recently traveled with Camillus to Pittsburgh’s Homewood neighborhood in order to see the U.S. element of his BoH project in action. The complementary element of the project is located in India.

Homewood is the site of the DC HEART initiative (the acronym is short for Direct Current for Humanity, Energy, and Regional Transformation) of the BoH Project. The neighborhood, which is less than five miles from Pitt’s campus, has crime rates, income levels, and educational outcomes that are among the city’s worst. Yet, it is also home to a vibrant community and rich history that are a unique source of strength.

In this joint project,  Camillus and colleagues from other Pitt schools—Bopaya Bidanda, Ernest Roth Professor and Chair of Industrial Engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, and John Wallace, Professor at the School of Social Work—are working together, employing a disruptive technology to connect energy and health industries in India and Homewood in a groundbreaking way.

The trio opened a bio-shelter in Homewood that is off-grid for both power and water, and which runs on direct current (DC) electrical power, as opposed to the standard alternating current (AC) power source.  DC power is more energy efficient and is inherently compatible with renewable energy sources. The bio-shelter generates its energy through solar panels on an adjacent pavilion constructed to serve as an outdoor learning space.

Currently the bio-shelter is growing produce through hydroponics and later this year it will add a state-of-the-art aquaponics system. In essence, the bio-shelter runs on renewable energy, operates on a locally operated power grid, employs harvested and stored rainwater, and grows food year-round for the community that is immune from droughts or weather conditions.

“Our dream and intent is that the economic self-sufficiency and profit potential we are building into these global projects will lead them to be replicated endlessly,” Camillus told the students.

ISolar panels that power the bio-sheltern addition to viewing the bio-shelter, students were treated to a lecture from Wallace. He outlined the social and economic challenges in Homewood, and shared details on how the organization he runs, the Bible Center Church, is moving forward with a number of entrepreneurial ventures to address the problems. For instance, at Wallace’s request, BoH’s other co-principal, engineering professor Bopaya Bidanda, is transplanting a Manufacturing Assistance Center to Homewood, with a BoH focus to train and prepare people for jobs created by the DC technology employed in Homewood.

Following the lecture, Wallace took the students to the Everyday Café coffee shop that his church will open later this year.

“We have universities right up the street. If we can be a bridge to the community, it can make all the difference,” Wallace told the students.

The bio-shelter project will provide Homewood with a cutting-edge technology not found anywhere else in the city, or perhaps even the world. Camillus, Bidanda and Wallace hope it’s the start of something big.

Learn More

The DC Heart initiative was recently featured on the front pages of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in a two-part series titled, “World Power.” For more information about or to follow progress on the BoH project, visit the DC Heart Initiative website or the Business of Humanity website.