U-M launches nonprofit to help entrepreneurs in developing countries

The University of Michigan (U-M) has launched a new nonprofit institute focused on helping entrepreneurs in developing countries.


The Michigan Academy for the Development of Entrepreneurs (MADE) was created through a partnership between U-M's Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies (ZLI), U-M's William Davidson Institute (WDI), and Aparajitha Foundations. Entrepreneur Mike Pape will serve as executive director.


WDI is an independent, nonprofit research and educational organization focused on providing private-sector solutions in emerging markets. Aparajitha Foundations, a part of Aparajitha Group, is a charitable trust with the objective of supporting the less privileged mainly in terms of education and health.


Stewart Thornhill, executive director of ZLI, says the idea behind MADE grew out of U-M's MBA curriculum. In the last half-semester of their first year, usually in March and April, all classes for first-year MBA students form teams to complete Michigan Action-Learning Projects. Teams spend two to seven weeks on site working with corporate clients on projects, developing recommendations, and presenting ideas to the board or CEO.


"They can use it as an opportunity to provide value to the client as well as learn the process of dealing with real-world, messy situations instead of the clean classroom problems they've been encountering," Thornhill says.


WDI also supports student teams working with nonprofits in emerging economies. Over time, Thornhill says the two U-M programs had inadvertently created a network of international partners.


"We decided we could do more to leverage this network," Thornhill says. "We could learn from each other and take advantage of these preexisting relationships and find a way to become more than the sum of our parts."


MADE's initial focus is on India, but the nonprofit will also build on past work in Vietnam and Kosovo, with plans for future expansion into other areas.


Executive director Pape will be helped by a team of students doing a four-credit course that will help formalize the nonprofit's business plan and make sure it can remain a sustainable, ongoing enterprise, Thornhill says. He says he believes the nonprofit will have solidified its model and will become self-sustaining within two to three years.


Thornhill says MADE isn't about people from the U.S. going to another country thinking they know what's best for these emerging economies, but rather about mutual learning.


"There are things that we teach and learn here in the U.S. that don't apply in other countries, because they don't have the same property rights and legal structures or things we take for granted in terms of infrastructure," Thornhill says. "Step one is learning from successful entrepreneurs in these countries about what works and what doesn't. Maybe you can take someone working in rural India and have them learn from someone in Vietnam, and then transfer that knowledge to someone in Morocco. We're here to learn and then to spread the knowledge."


Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.


Photos courtesy of MADE.

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