Triggering a Chain of Change

A joint program between Rollins College’s Crummer Graduate School of Business and four Indian universities teams up students to work with small businesses in eastern India, to improve their economic livelihood. 

In the world of business, sticking to the comfortable and familiar is not always the best strategy. Introducing changes into ongoing practices, by applying new skills, can have a significant impact and improve performance and profit. Chain of Change, a collaborative program between the Crummer Graduate School of Business at Rollins College, Florida, and Calcutta University, focuses on this area of intervention. It aims to empower students and small entrepreneurs living in underserved communities with skills to improve business success and economic livelihood. 

Targeting Tier II cities in eastern India, Calcutta University is partnering with University of North Bengal in Darjeeling, West Bengal, and Tezpur University and Gauhati University in Assam. The aim is to develop student teams to work together remotely and in-person, to provide growth-related consultations to small businesses in these two states. 

The program is part of Partnership 2020, a project funded by the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Embassy New Delhi, implemented in collaboration with the University of Nebraska Omaha, with the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies playing an advisory role. The goal of Partnership 2020 is to strengthen the partnership between the United States and India through collaborations among higher education institutions. 

The Crummer Graduate School of Business was awarded the grant for the Chain of Change program in November 2019. The program is jointly led by Mary Conway Dato-on of the Crummer School of Business and Sharmistha Banerjee of Calcutta University. It builds upon the strength and success of previous cycles of the Global Links program, a cross-cultural training program founded in 2011 by the Crummer School and the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Global Women’s Issues, with corporate sponsorship. The program sponsors high-achieving female scholars from emerging countries, to foster their social entrepreneurial knowledge and skills. Global Links has run three cycles in India between 2015 and 2019, during which it provided social entrepreneurship training and business mentorship to about 4,000 students and 70 entrepreneurs. With support from the U.S. Consulate General Kolkata, the Crummer School team was able to establish strong partnerships with several institutions in India, including universities and nongovernmental organizations. These partnerships provided the team the networks and experience needed to develop a new program that builds on this impact. 

As the Crummer School focuses on applied learning for innovative, globally responsible leaders, the students are regarded as ideally equipped for this cross-cultural program. Student teams are formed strategically by combining MBA-level students, who can provide advanced leadership and business insight, with undergraduate Indian students, who have on-ground and cultural knowledge. “Regular communication exchanges across Crummer and Indian team members enable continued monitoring of business plan activities, while facilitating comprehension of challenges faced by small business owners in emerging markets, such as India, with limited access to resources,” say the program planners.

The Chain of Change program has been successfully launched, with recruitment of all participants. The program directors and coordinators have formed 11 teams and have also assigned an entrepreneur to each team. Given that student outcomes are driven by application of classroom learning to real situations, similar to an internship, success can be monitored through assessment surveys and students’ presentations.

As for keeping track of the progress, the coordinators inform that, “At its most fundamental level, the program tracks the number of individuals reached during the entire duration of the program. Chain of Change expects to inculcate improved business practices and social entrepreneurial concepts in 1,500 individuals, including Indian program participants, community and business leaders as well as members of the Rollins College community.”

To add value, the program is designed in a way that allows the social impact to continue beyond its end date. The faculty and students are trained throughout the program to create a ripple effect in their communities by spreading their learning to those in their academic and professional networks. 

The Chain of Change program also aims to establish partnerships among universities and other local organizations, providing them with a successful, proven model that they can integrate into their operations to continue creating a positive transformation. These new experiences will also encourage student participants to look for creative solutions in their chosen field of work.


Ranjita Biswas is a Kolkata-based journalist. She also translates fiction and writes short stories.