Stanford Social Innovation Fellowships Awarded to Two MBA Students’ Ventures

The Stanford GSB’s Center for Social Innovation has awarded its first Social Innovation Fellowships to graduating MBA students for their nonprofit ventures.

March 30, 2009

In the spirit of recent alumni changing the world through social enterprises developed at Stanford GSB, the school’s Center for Social Innovation has awarded its first Social Innovation Fellowships to graduating MBA students Federico Lozano Fernandez and Jayampathy “Chari” Ratwatte Jr. for their nonprofit ventures to serve disadvantaged populations in Mexico and Sri Lanka, respectively.

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Jayampathy “Chari” Ratwatte Jr

Jayampathy “Chari” Ratwatte Jr

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Federico Lozano Fernandez

Federico Lozano Fernandez

Launched earlier this year as a three-year pilot program, Social Innovation Fellowships are designed to enable mission-driven Stanford GSB MBAs to devote their full-time energy after graduation to transforming into reality a novel idea for addressing an important social or environmental problem. Year-long fellowships, which include $80,000-$120,000 in stipends, are awarded in June and based on such criteria as project viability—including strength of innovative approach and likelihood of success—and applicant qualifications and commitment.

“This fellowship program builds upon 38 years’ experience preparing students for careers in nonprofits, government, and socially responsible business that have made Stanford a leading business school at the forefront of social innovation,” said selection committee member Garth Saloner, the Philip H. Knight Professor and Dean. “We are pleased to enable passionate new graduates to turn their innovative ideas and dreams of changing the world into reality.”

Puentes Global

The fellowship will allow Lozano to pursue his dream of developing Puentes Global, an international employment agency matching poor, semi-skilled Mexican laborers with employers in Spain experiencing labor scarcity.“Being born into a poor family in one of the less-developed regions of the world is no one’s conscious choice, but rather—in the case of four billion poor people—an inescapable reality,” explains Lozano. “This circumstance should not preclude anyone from pursuing a more rewarding livelihood elsewhere on the planet.” Puentes Global strives to become “the world’s first nonprofit international recruitment agency for the poor by making merit and hard work the main prerequisites for millions of men and women to develop their professional potential to the fullest and make a better life for themselves and their families.”

A citizen of both Spain and Mexico, Lozano grew up 10 minutes from the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego, where he observed the plight and indignities of immigrant families seeking better opportunities in the United States. As a student in Barcelona, his undergraduate thesis explored global migration and Spain’s flexible migrant labor laws. From these experiences came the idea “to make legal, well-paying jobs in the rich world available to the millions of qualified workers in the developing world,” he said.

Rural Returns

Ratwatte’s venture, Rural Returns, seeks to empower Sri Lankan rice paddy farmers by enabling them to earn higher profits in the global marketplace by cultivating Sri Lankan heirloom rice using traditional sustainable methods. “Rice plays a central role in Sri Lankan culture,” says Ratwatte. “Until the 20th century, the paddy farmer was revered as the provider for a nation. But the economics of modern paddy cultivation work against the small farmer.” The result: the breakup of families, depression, alcoholism, and a suicide rate that is among the highest in the world.

Rural Returns will address the problem from four approaches: connect farmers with small groups that have preserved high-value traditional grains and the knowledge, technology, and support to return to sustainable practices; create a non-exploitative, reliable supply chain connected to local and global distributors; create an umbrella brand for additional exotic rural products; and enable community-driven development with increased income resulting from higher-value goods produced and more value captured.

Rural Returns will receive funding as a summer research fellowship. A second phase of funding may be awarded upon further evaluation after more field-based research.

Additional Information

Developed in partnership with the Robertson Foundation, the school’s Social Innovation Fellowship was inspired by such Stanford GSB alumni as: Jake Harriman, MBA ’08, founder of Nuru International, creating sustainable solutions to extreme poverty in the developing world; Jessica Flannery, MBA ’07, cofounder of Kiva, the world’s first people-to-people micro-lending website; and Sam Goldman and Ned Tozun, both MBA ’07, founders of d.light, providing clean, safe, and bright light to millions of rural poor who live without electricity.

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