For all the good expected to come of recent investments in fostering local entrepreneurship, none of them explicitly promotes business as a tool of social benevolence — until now.
A $1 million endowment disclosed this week will fund a series of two-year fellowships allowing a Cal State Bakersfield professor, together with a student assistant and possibly others, to perform and share research on how profitable ventures can deliver good on a level transcending shareholder value.
Established by a pledge from the locally based Ravi and Naina Patel Foundation, the Mahatma Gandhi Fellowship for Social Entrepreneurship will give focus to an aspect of business that is sometimes discussed in classes presented by CSUB’s School of Business and Public Administration but which has not previously been a field of specialization at the university.
Dr. Ravi Patel and his wife and fellow physician Naina have made prior financial contributions to the university through their private foundation. But none more than the new fellowship has elevated corporate social responsibility as a discipline serving the greater good.
“If we can come up with a way to improve the lives of people, particularly those who are impoverished, we make them participants in the success of the ventures we do,” Ravi Patel said Thursday. He added that companies can generate profits for shareholders while also benefiting employees, customers and the “greater universe of stakeholders.”
The foundation’s donation, which is expected to be paid out over five years, has come as the latest financial gift aimed at addressing a need identified recently by Kern County’s B3K Prosperity economic development collaboration.
B3K research showing the entrepreneurial spirit burns brightly in the county, but that help is often needed to keep individual fires going, has sparked substantial public and private investments for developing entrepreneurial talent. Earlier this month, for instance, local organizations including the SeedCore and Skeet Varner foundations put up a total of more than $1 million to create a business accelerator at CSUB.
A leader in B3K’s entrepreneurship initiative, SeedCore co-founder John-Paul “J.P.” Lake, said by email he expects the Patel Foundation’s fellowship will help students understand business is a tool for doing good in the community.
“Making money is not a goal in and of itself,” he wrote. “A profitable business is one which meets the needs of all stakeholders and creates real value and social impact in the world.”
In a news story the university published online, CSUB President Lynnette Zelezny was quoted as saying the fellowship positions the school as a leader in the emerging, values-based discipline of social entrepreneurship.
“Through research and program development, faculty and student teams will approach business development in a new way exploring issues like sustainability, building self-sufficient communities and creating workspaces that respect work-life balance,” she reportedly said.
The plan is to award the new fellowship to a full-time faculty member in the School of Business and Public Administration who will serve a two-year term. That person will not necessarily remain in the position indefinitely but will be allowed to reapply for the fellowship at the end of the term.
The successful candidate will be expected to teach on a half-time schedule while also developing curriculum for effective teaching of corporate responsibility, not only in the school’s formal courses but also as a module to be included in the new business accelerator.
Additionally, the fellow will be asked to work with a student assistant to conduct research on corporate social responsibility that can be published and presented at conferences.
The school’s interim dean, business management professor John Stark, said Thursday the hope is that future business people coming out of the university will embed corporate social responsibility into their work culture, ultimately transforming the kinds of businesses operating locally.
“We’d be much more aware of our neighbors,” if such training took hold, Stark added.
Ravi Patel, a successful and socially active businessman who founded Bakersfield’s Comprehensive Blood & Cancer Center in 1984, has served on CSUB’s foundation since 2019. His and Naina Patel’s foundation, established in 1998, established a scholarship fund at CSUB to encourage nursing students to pursue careers in oncology.
As an example of the “Gandhian way” the new fellowship might explore could include a look at farming operations that also benefit farmworkers.
“There’s a lot of local applications … for a variety of things which we do in our community,” he said.