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

Vijay Govindarajan’s Reverse Innovation lesson at Dartmouth Tuck: “Students were able to empathize with these families and learn how some live in poor conditions on as little as $2 a day.” Rob Strong Photography

When the coronavirus temporarily made international travel impossible, Vijay Govindarajan had an idea.

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

The aim: to identify health and wellbeing problems of Indian families living below the poverty line and how business can provide solutions. And VR would help make it happen.

“We need to look at people who don’t consume products and services and ask what their barriers to consumption are,” Govindarajan said. Poets&Quants† “Then we need to think about how business can play a role in coming up with innovative solutions. The best and brightest leaders today are those who are going to build an inclusive, responsible and compassionate capitalist society.”


Vijay Govindarajan. Laura Decapua Photography

Govindarajan believes that capitalism abandons too many people and that most companies want to make money at any cost. But not all profits are created equal, he says.

“We’ve taken people out of business,” he says. “Profits that improve 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 make business more humane; his intention was to help students understand the power of a leadership approach that combines a social heart with a business mind. “Making things more human means understanding that the 7 billion people on Earth have the same needs and wants. Yet the needs and wants of some people are met while others are not.”

For Tuck ’22 college student Sasha Croak, her biggest realization 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 Kraak. Laura Decapua Photography

Govindarajan suggested the idea for the virtual GIX to Tuck Dean Matthew Slaughter in the summer of 2021, calling it a cheap opportunity for innovation. After Govindarajan received approval, he teamed up with I-India to produce 34 films – using both VR360 and mainstream 2D ​​technology – that portrayed the lives of various Indian families over six months. Launched this spring, the course took students on a learning journey through rural and urban Tamil Nadu.

The class started by teaching fundamental knowledge about reverse innovation. “Historically, companies in rich countries like the United States innovated and then sold those products in poorer countries like India,” Govindarajan says. “Reverse Innovation is about doing the exact opposite; it’s about innovating in a poor country like India and then selling those products in a rich country like the US.”

Next, students met an entrepreneur who was conducting reverse innovation in India. Then the next sessions included live, synchronous Zoom interviews between classmates and Indian families – in which students prepared by watching VR360 and regular 2D movies in their own time. The students then created impact through a team-based Reverse Innovation Action Learning Project, in which they applied their knowledge of customer issues to determine a business idea that they presented to Indian venture capitalists.

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