Humanizing the Business: How Tuck’s Virtual Reality Experiment Brings Empathy to the MBA Classroom

Vijay Govindarajan’s Reverse Innovation Course at Dartmouth Tuck: “Students were able to empathize with these families and learn how some live in precarious conditions for just $ 2 a day.” Rob Strong Photography

When the coronavirus made international travel temporarily impossible, Vijay Govindarajan came up with an idea.

Accustomed to bringing MBA students from Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business to India as part of its Reverse Innovation class’s annual Global Insight Expedition (GIX), Govindarajan instead decided to bring India to students using virtual reality technology.

The goal: to identify health and wellness problems affecting Indian families living below the poverty line and determine how companies can provide solutions. And virtual reality would help make it happen.

“We have to look at people who don’t consume products and services and ask ourselves what their barriers to consumption are,” says Govindarajan. Poets and how many. “So, we need to think about how business can play a role in proposing innovative solutions. The best and brightest leaders of today are those who will build an inclusive, responsible and compassionate capitalist society ”.


Vijay Govindarajan. Photo by Laura Decapua

Govindarajan believes that capitalism is leaving too many people behind and that most companies want to make money at all costs. But not all profits are created equal, he says.

“We took humans out of business,” he says. “Profits that enhance social value are higher forms of profit. Capitalism that works for more people is a better form of capitalism. ”

Govindarajan wanted his virtual reality experiment to humanize business; his intention was to help students understand the power of adopting a leadership approach that combines a social heart with an entrepreneurial mind. “Humanizing business means understanding that the 7 billion people on planet Earth have the same needs and desires. Yet the needs and desires of some people are satisfied, while others are not ”.

For Tuck ’22 student Sasha Croak, her biggest achievement from the course was that business models that incorporated humanity and empathy were the most successful. “For me, humanizing business is just that: weaving empathy and understanding for everyone around you, from customers to business partners,” she says.


Sasha croaks. Photo by Laura Decapua

Govindarajan pitched the idea for the virtual GIX to Tuck Dean Matthew Slaughter in the summer of 2021, framing it as a low-cost innovation opportunity. Once approved, Govindarajan worked with I-India to produce 34 films, using both VR360 and regular 2D technology, which painted a picture of the lives of several Indian families over the span of six months. The course was launched this spring and took students on a learning journey through rural and urban Tamil Nadu.

The lesson started with teaching basic knowledge in reverse innovation. “Historically, companies have innovated in rich countries like the United States and then sold those products in poorer countries like India,” says Govindarajan. “Reverse innovation is about doing exactly the opposite; it’s about innovating in a poor country like India and then selling those products in a rich country like the United States ”

Next, the students met with an entrepreneur who performed reverse innovation in India. Then, subsequent sessions included live synchronous Zoom interviews between classmates and Indian families, in which students prepared themselves by watching VR360 and regular 2D movies in their spare time. The students then created an impact through a team-based reverse innovation action-based learning project, in which they applied their understanding of customer problems to determine a business idea they presented to Indian venture capitalists.

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