HEC Paris - MBA Program

Origins of the Chair

March 8, 2008

In March 2008: Signing of the Social Business Chair, by HEC Paris dean Bernard Ramanantsoa, High Commissioner for Active Solidarities against Poverty for the French government Martin Hirsch, and Professor Muhammad Yunus.

Bénédicte Faivre-Tavignot tells us about the origins of the Chair

The Chair was established through a series of significant encounters, questioning, and reflection.
The first significant encounter was with Professor Muhammad Yunus in October 2005 when he came to the campus for a conference, following which he was awarded an HEC Paris Honoris Causa degree. During the day we introduced him to Danone executives. It was over the course of a rather significant lunch that the creation of the Grameen Danone facility in Bangladesh was decided. A number of HEC Master of Sustainable Development students, as well as some students from other HEC programs, went to Bangladesh to participate in this adventure.

Following this, other companies contacted us to request our students’ help in creating new business models to contribute to reducing poverty in poor and emerging countries. Finally, from all these experiences and initiatives came the following request from students: “Teach us how these business models can work in developing countries, provide us with teaching on these subjects.”

Another significant encounter was with Martin Hirsch at the Grenelle Integration Forum in 2008, which several people from HEC participated in. At the end of the Grenelle, Martin Hirsch requested that HEC help him work with companies to reduce poverty in France.

Yet another significant encounter was with the Ministry of Urban Affairs, which is very concerned about exclusion problems, and one day asked us why we do not train HEC students or business and engineering students from other Grandes écoles how to set up social integration companies.

All of these encounters, often remarkable, along with questions and our own reflection on the significant role a company can play today in reducing poverty, convinced us to create the “Social Business/Enterprise and Poverty” Chair.”

The creation the Master of Science / Major in Sustainable Development and of the Alternative Management Major in 2003, the launch of the SB/EP Chair in 2008 with Danone, co-chaired by Muhammad Yunus and Martin Hirsch, are important milestones in HEC Paris’ process of committing to social and environmental issues. For more than ten years now, students from diverse HEC programs have gotten involved in missions of social business, or those related to the base of the pyramid issues. The increasing number of conferences, student projects and theses on social business and the fight against poverty reflect the need to develop research and specialized teaching to respond to these innovative questions.

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