Social Impact: Southeast and East Asia 2021

Balancing Financial Return with Social Impact

In GIM Social Impact, students develop a foundation of knowledge about global sectors and economies through both classroom learning and engagement with in-country leaders, with a particular focus on institutions (either for-profit or non-profit) that aim to generate positive social or environmental impact.

Course Description

Global Initiatives in Management (GIM) Social Impact is a course designed to provide students with a broad introduction to the unique opportunities and challenges of designing and analyzing business models – either for-profit or not-for-profit – that create positive societal or environmental impact. Students will gain broad exposure to a variety of organizations that have deliberately designed their organization for social impact and will analyze how and where financial return is compatible with social impact.


In addition students will have the opportunity to look in-depth at the challenges and market opportunities in Southeast and East Asia (with particular emphasis on the Philippines and Hong Kong, but student projects are viable for any Southeast Asian or East Asian country). The Philippines is rich in resources but wracked by the presence of extreme wealth alongside extreme poverty. The country remains largely agricultural but high domestic and foreign investment has spurred rapid industrial expansion in the past decades.  Just two hours away by plane, Hong Kong is a metropolitan area and special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China. Today, Hong Kong is one of the world’s major financial and trade centers, and increasingly a center for impact investing and philanthropy.


Student teams will work on projects that analyze one business or social sector in Southeast and East Asia.


Because travel is not possible for the Winter 2021 quarter and spring break due to COVID-19, the class will meet with social impact leaders in the Philippines and Hong Kong over zoom throughout the quarter. There are two types of such meetings: “Plenaries” are for all class participation, and are on the syllabus. In addition, Independent Project Groups (“IPG”) meetings are organized by each student group on their own, as is relevant for their social impact sector. The class and all deliverables and activities will finish before Spring break.


Last Updated: 10/26/2020

Faculty Bio

Faculty Bio

Dean Karlan is the Frederic Esser Nemmers Distinguished Professor of Economics and Finance at Northwestern University, and the Founder and President of Innovations for Poverty Action, a non-profit organization dedicated to discovering and promoting solutions to global poverty problems. Karlan is also on the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors of the M.I.T. Jameel Poverty Action Lab.  In 2015, he also co-founded ImpactMatters, a nonprofit dedicated to estimating and rating impact of nonprofit organizations in order to help donors choose good charities and to promote more transparency in the nonprofit sector.

His research focuses on microeconomic issues of poverty, typically employing experimental methodologies and behavioral economics insights to examine what works, what does not, and why to address social problems. His work spans many geographies and topics, including sustainable income generation for those in abject poverty, credit and savings markets for low income households, agriculture for smallholder farmers, small and medium entrepreneurship, weight loss and smoking cessation, and charitable giving. He has worked in over twenty countries around the world, including both low income countries and also the United States.

As a social entrepreneur, he co-founded, a website that uses lessons from behavioral economics to help people reach personal goals, such as weight loss and smoking cessation, through commitment contracts.

In 2011, Karlan co-authored More Than Good Intentions: How a New Economics is Helping to Solve Global Poverty; in 2016 he co-authored Failing in the Field; in 2018 he co-authored The Goldilocks Challenge: Right-Fit Evidence for the Social Sector; and in 2020 he co-authored the third edition of a economics principles textbook, Economics.

Karlan received a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He was awarded distinguished alumni awards from the University of Chicago Booth Graduate School of Business and the Duke University Talent Identification Program.

Previously, Karlan was the Samuel C Park, Jr Professor of Economics at Yale University, and Assistant Professor of Economics at Princeton University. Karlan received a Ph.D. in Economics from M.I.T., an M.B.A. and an M.P.P. from the University of Chicago, and a B.A. in International Affairs from the University of Virginia.

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