Exploring business with a social conscience

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Through academic research, rich programming, and a focus on increasing prosperity where markets are ineffective, SE@G is making an impact. Wesley Longhofer, assistant professor of organization & management, and Brian O. Goebel 09MBA, managing director of SE@G and program director of Start: ME Accelerator, share insights into the group’s trajectory.

Q: From aiding entrepreneurs to helping female coffee growers, SE@G is a project-driven area. How do you determine the best way to invest the group’s time?

Goebel: It can be challenging, especially since we come at issues with a comprehensive point of view. SE@G is an active research center. Whatever projects we take on, we root them in research, design with market challenges in mind, and implement with thoughtful action.

Longhofer: As a business school, we feel we should understand when markets don’t work and how certain populations are more vulnerable when markets fail. And that really guides how we choose projects and the direction of coursework. Our attention is not solely fixed globally, projects can be in areas of Atlanta where there is a dearth of small businesses, or it could be in Central America, where their coffee farmers are not being compensated because the markets aren’t working like they should.

Q: Would you give us an example of research that provided the impetus for further exploration?

Longhofer: One example is Peter Roberts’ work on coffee. It started as a relationship with a coffee farm in Nicaragua; then we began sourcing coffee and developed the Farmers to 40 idea to challenge the amount farmers get paid. Alongside that, Peter [professor of organization & management] wanted to better understand how the
coffee market works generally, which requires tracking roasters who are sourcing coffee from all over the world, looking into how they’re contracting with and compensating farmers, learning how much access farmers have to specialty markets, and so on. This is another great example of how you can have a serious research stream and
innovative programming. They inform each other.

Q: Alumni are involved in some of your efforts, but the numbers are small. How would you like to reach out to the alumni and business communities?

Goebel: One of the most exciting ways I’ve seen alumni get involved is through our MOMENTUM campaigns. Last year students raised more than $30,000, with the support of many alumni contributions from around the world.

Alumni have started coffee buyers’ clubs at their office or in their place of worship. It’s simple; just visit farmersto40.com to place an order and have high-quality coffee grown by amazing farmers shipped right to your door. Many Atlanta-area alumni have also jumped in as business mentors for our Start:ME Accelerator programs. Each winter they coach 30+ neighborhood-based business owners in East Lake and Clarkston. Our alumni do a fantastic job helping bakers, caterers, and handy-people get established, and they have fun while doing it.

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