The Seeds of Change

Stanford Business Magazine Online

Our new institute will help entrepreneurs and managers create engines of growth in developing economies.

On study trips with students I have visited numerous emerging economies from Thailand to Kenya to Saudi Arabia. Like most people on foreign business or pleasure travel, I have spent time in air-conditioned hotels and glass-encased business towers. And like Bob and Dottie King, I have also visited impoverished areas where I've seen the human and environmental consequences of scarce water, education, health care, food, energy, and shelter.

Thanks to the incredible generosity of the Kings, the GSB in November launched the Stanford Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies (referred to as SEED because it signifies possibility) to help tackle these problems. With the Kings' founding gift of $150 million, one of the largest ever to Stanford, the business school will undertake a bold initiative to stimulate, develop, and disseminate research and innovations that enable entrepreneurs, managers, and leaders to alleviate poverty in developing economies.

Stanford University is committed to tackling the world's biggest problems, including helping the more than a billion people living on $1.25 per day. But how can Stanford, and the business school in particular, play a substantive role in addressing this issue? That is the question the Kings first posed to us almost two years ago. The answer, we believe, is linked to two observations: First, the planet's resources will not stretch without significant innovation, and second, 50% of population growth this century will occur in parts of the world that have among the weakest traditions of business education. By bringing our school's strengths of knowledge, research, and human capital to bear, SEED will help entrepreneurs and the leaders of small organizations around the world scale and become the engines of growth for their economies. In turn, we will internalize all that we learn from partners and entrepreneurs on the ground, and those insights will fuel research and classroom discussion back at Stanford.

This is the business school's first institute, a word that carries some heft at Stanford. Most recently, as part of The Stanford Challenge, the university has created several institutes to house multidisciplinary efforts that span several schools because we believe that the world's most vexing problems are best tackled from multiple perspectives. This institute will be no different. The context for entrepreneurship and management in developing economies involves difficult issues related to water, health, governance, education, law, and the environment. Thus, while SEED will be housed in the business school, it will draw in relevant expertise from around Stanford, as well as from our own Centers for Social Innovation, Entrepreneurial Studies, and Global Business and the Economy.

This initiative is another key piece of our strategy to dramatically increase the school's global reach and impact. SEED will spur our community to become more actively aware and engaged in grappling with complex dynamics of emerging economies to improve their organizations and the world at large. Students will have opportunities to work closely with growing enterprises, and faculty will have bases from which to gather research data and write cases, and develop new programs designed specifically for entrepreneurs, managers, and social innovators from the regions in which SEED is active.

I feel truly humbled and grateful for the opportunity that Bob and Dottie King have given us. I am inspired not just by the magnitude of their giving but also by the values that motivate it and principles that guide it. Bob and Dottie King see injustice and they feel moved to address it. And in doing so, they are drawn to the world of ideas and the necessity to put substantive knowledge into practice. It is this alignment of values and principles that has forged the partnership that SEED represents.