Social Entrepreneurship Grows Academic Legs
The percentage of U.S. campuses requiring students to take a course "dedicated to business and society issues" has increased from 34 percent in 2001 to 69 percent in 2009. So reports the Aspen Institute’s Center for Business Education in Beyond Grey Pinstripes 2009-2010, also identifying 109 social entrepreneurship courses on respondent campuses.
Like sustainability, social entrepreneurship means different things to different people. In general, it takes its cue from the business world’s ability to recognize challenges and difficulties generated by change as opportunities to create value. The business goal may be to increase either social or financial capital, or both.
Social entrepreneurs are looking for creative solutions to society’s most pressing problems. Duke University professor Gregory Dees says that social entrepreneurs are particularly effective when they "attack the underlying causes of problems, rather than simply treating symptoms."
Duke houses its social entrepreneurship curriculum within the business school. The MBA concentration in social entrepreneurship requires students to take a minimum of six electives, from among a selection of courses like "Achieving Impact in Social-Purpose Organizations," "Entrepreneurial Management in the Social Sector," and "Corporate Social Impact Management." Also offered are "Entrepreneurial Finance," "Exempt Organizations," "Community Economic Development Law," and "Business Strategy for Environmental Sustainability."
Similar curricular changes have taken place in MBA programs at Cornell, Berkeley, Dartmouth, New York University, and Stanford. Rankings are emerging, further heating up an already intense rivalry. Among the better known rankings is "Beyond Grey Pinstripes," which also conducts a survey of MBA students.
Work and study abroad
Schools are offering opportunities for students to spend time in developing countries working with non-profits, nongovernmental organizations, and social entrepreneurs. At Cornell University, for example, students are working on ecotourism projects in Costa Rica and natural food production projects in Africa.
Edward Mabaya, is a research associate in applied economics and management. He and three Cornell students worked in Botswana last winter break, helping launch a new natural food products company called WildFoods. "The field study courses are a unique opportunity to integrate in-class learning, practical experience and outreach service," says Mabaya. "It’s great to see Cornell students apply their skills and help a pioneering company like WildFoods."
Working with WildFoods founder and CEO Frank Taylor clearly impressed Gretchen Ruethling, a Cornell graduate student in the Institute for Public Affairs. "He is using business to improve the livelihoods of rural communities with limited income earning opportunities," she observes.
MBA programs in social entrepreneurship attract students who want to produce a positive social impact, not just wealth. Results from a 2008 survey of 1,850 MBA students enrolled in 80 graduate business programs showed that 78 percent wanted more sustainability and corporate responsibility content in their MBA curricula. And 58 percent want financial models that take into account long-term social impacts.
Corporate and independent career opportunities
Meanwhile, the available jobs are increasing. A 2008 report released by Net Impact noted an growth rate of 37 percent from January, 2004 and June, 2007 in the number of such jobs. Career pathways for MBAs and non-MBAs are emerging. Entrepreneurial opportunities exist among a growing number of nonprofit organizations who are streamlining their operations and developing commercial revenue opportunities.
Corporations are developing alliances with nonprofits to strengthen their public image and sharpen their brand identity. The Clorox/Sierra Club partnership, which produced a new line of green products, is a good example. Job opportunities for social entrepreneurs with marketing and communications skills will likely continue to grow.
True to the spirit of entrepreneurship, the fastest growing and most creative arena of activity is outside the realm of established organizations. Among many young social entrepreneurs, the lure of starting one’s own enterprise is irresistible. University of Colorado graduate Drew Chafetz created love.futbol at the age of 25. His goal is to provide soccer fields for impoverished communities. To date, Chafetz’s nonprofit has built three of them in Guatemala.
Undergraduate offerings have begun to appear. First on the scene was Aquinas College, which launched a BS in Sustainable Business in fall 2003. An internship with a company or nonprofit organization is included. Belmont University rolled out a social entrepreneurship major in 2009 that combines business courses with thematic tracks in the liberal arts, including economic development, global social entrepreneurship, contemporary social issues, faith, culture, and ethics, or environmental studies. Linking theory and practice, Belmont requires students to engage in service learning, an internship, and an extended community-based project.
Like Belmont, Tulane University also launched a university-wide social entrepreneurship initiative in September, 2009, building on a movement that continued to be popular in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina. "Government wouldn’t step up to the plate, so citizens stepped up," notes Stephanie Barksdale, special assistant to Tulane’s president.
"A lot of activity was already taking place in silos on campus," noted Barksdale, "but this new initiative is an interdisciplinary effort." Tulane President Scott Cowen says that social entrepreneurship is a key part of the university’s renewal plan in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. "No matter their career aspirations, we want every Tulane student to embrace and become engaged in social entrepreneurship," Cowen has said.
Top priorities at Tulane include hiring a chair to develop the undergraduate social entrepreneurship major. In addition, the university will host a speaker series featuring entrepreneurs like Billy Drayton, founder of Ashoka, and Darrell Hammond, founder and CEO of KABOOM! Playgrounds. Tulane will also launch NewDay Challenge with money awards to students with promising projects.
Nic Lagatta, Shea Shelton, and Jay Zhao have already received a check for $25,000 for their project called WET Tea, which seeks help preserve Gulf Coast wetlands from the sale of highquality, artisan tea. For each box sold, the group will plant a cypress tree as they work with communities in South Louisiana in hands-on wetlands restoration.
TOPICS: Management, Sustainability, Teaching & Learning