Social Entrepreneurship for the Environment and Health

Teresa Chahine
Teresa Chahine, Program Leader for Social Entrepreneurship, took her course around the world this year.

“You are about to embark on a life-changing journey. That part of you that has always longed to tackle the challenges facing our world today is about to become very, very alive. And have no doubt—we are aiming to create a monster! With the tools and concepts you are about to learn, you will build the skills and a mindset required to tackle the social challenge of your choice.”

Introduction To Social Entrepreneurship, by Teresa Chahine

In the days leading up to her courses on social entrepreneurship, Program Leader Dr. Teresa Chahine assigns incoming students readings from her book, Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship. At the end of the introduction, she gives students the pep talk above, speaking directly to the hearts of people who are deeply troubled by the enormous social, environmental, and global health challenges our world faces today.

Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship Book Cover“Sometimes it's easy to feel despair,” Dr. Chahine said while discussing her class. “But when you see people coming together from all around the world to exchange ideas to make things better, you realize that a very different future is right around the corner.”

And, indeed, Dr. Chahine is a catalyst for bringing together aspiring world-changers. This past summer and early fall, she traveled to China and Brazil to share her knowledge with students who feel compelled to improve society in profoundly meaningful ways, and are looking for guidance in providing solutions through social entrepreneurship. As she defines it, social entrepreneurship is about the power of the person to create positive change. She believes there is a social entrepreneur inside each one of us, and that it’s possible to learn skills that help make these changes more effective and long lasting.

To this end, Dr. Chahine teaches her students how to launch new products, services, or systems to tackle the world’s most pressing concerns using evidence-driven, financially viable methods that result in population-level improvements.

“The desired outcome is sustainable development,” she says of her time in front of the classroom. “We will only reach the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals if we teach our future leaders how to find new ways of creating economic growth alongside investing in social and environmental outcomes.”

Teresa Chahine Classroom in China
Teresa Chahine works with students at Sichuan University during its summer immersion program.

This past July, Dr. Chahine visited Sichuan University in Chengdu, China, to participate in its University Immersion Program. This program invites over 200 international faculty to teach courses in English to primarily local students. In her 2-day course, “Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship,” Dr. Chahine taught 20 students the skills they need to formulate effective solutions around social challenges, and build viable social ventures to implement those solutions.

For their final deliverable, students pitched an idea for a social product or service, and described their implementation plan. Ideas ranged from a village-level renewable energy generator fueled by straw—a common waste product in agricultural China—to an insurance company that reduces the gender wage gap by helping women keep their jobs after giving birth.

In late September, Dr. Chahine traveled to the Amani Institute in Sao Paulo, Brazil, to teach Amani Fellows “How to Build and Manage a Social Venture.” The Institute offered this course in service of its mission to develop professionals who create social impact, and invited 20 business-minded people already in the early stages of launching social ventures or joining existing social impact organizations.

Fellows’ projects included a social enterprise to employ women in meaningful jobs, one to create energy from organic waste in the favelas of Brazil, and one to create a sustainable coffee supply chain that empowered farms and made them more resilient to climate change.

“What was most impressive was the way Teresa would individually assist each projects’ needs,” said Stephanie Sacco, Programs Manager at the Amani Institute. “Her interventions were brilliant and some of the entrepreneurs completely changed their social ventures based on her insights.”

She’ll travel back to Brazil again in May, to deliver the same course to a different cohort of entrepreneurs.

Social Entrepreneurship course at Amani Institute.
Students from Dr. Chahine's "How to Build a Social Venture" course at the Amani Institute, Sao Paulo, Brazil. 

“Students and professionals around the world are all concerned with the same problems,” Dr. Chahine said, reflecting on her recent travels. “From Chengdu to Sao Paulo, and from what I see here at Harvard and even back in my home city of Beirut, people care about the same things and are trying to fix them. Air pollution, renewable energy, gender issues, social equity, and climate change.”

Dr. Chahine is a valued member of our world-class faculty who train current and future leaders the skills they'll need to accelerate change for a healthier, more sustainable world.

Visit our website to learn more about Dr. Chahine and the Center’s work in social entrepreneurship.

Learn more about her class “Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Health Care” at the Harvard Chan School, and find her self-paced workshop online, for free, on her website.

—By Marcy Franck, Communications Director

Photos courtesy of Sichuan University and Teresa Chahine.