When the Free Market Makes Good
By Leigh Brown Perkins
File this one under “Works in Progress.”
While it is still in the developmental stages, social entrepreneurship clearly qualifies as a curricular innovation. Not only is the concept itself relatively new to the College, so is the initiative to integrate it into the mindsets and class schedules of Rollins students. Over the past year, this effort has been promoted by the Social Entrepreneurship and Sustainable Enterprise Initiative (SESE), a collaboration of faculty, staff, and students that began at the Crummer Graduate School of Business and has expanded to include representatives from across the campus.
“A handful of both undergraduate and Crummer students completed a survey project to assess the interest and the knowledge base on campus,” said Mary Conway Dato-on, associate professor of international business. “We feel very strongly that this is something the whole of Rollins can be known for, across campus, moving across curricula. It’s a movement.”
Rollins MBA student Sam Barns ’11 was invited to participate in a conference with faculty and other students interested in the concept of social entrepreneurship. “What we’d like to do is start a movement for social entrepreneurship,” he said. “We’ve brought in people for speaking engagements to promote the concept.”
Among the main goals of the initiative’s proponents are formal course offerings in the field (the first is slated for spring 2012) and integration of social entrepreneurship into the curriculum at large—as has been done with the concepts of global citizenship and responsible leadership.
Great, but what is social entrepreneurship?
Basically, it is seeing a societal challenge and using sound business principles, specifically entrepreneurial principles, to fix the problem, all while advancing the public good and making a profit.
“This is different than giving money to a charity,” Barns said. “We’re not knocking traditional charities, but a business that is dependent on people donating money is not sustainable.”
• Percentage of Millennials who feel a personal responsibility to make a different in the world: 61
• Percentage of business majors who want more focus on corporate responsibility: 73
• Percentage who expect to seek “socially responsible” employment: 84
• Percentage who have volunteered in the past year: up to 80
*Statistics provided by Net Impact
A good example of social entrepreneurship in action: Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus and his concept of microloans for the poor in Bangladesh. His bank is not a charity, but a company that makes a profit loaning people with no collateral small amounts of capital to operate their own businesses.
Such enterprises, Dato-on said, have a triple bottom line: financial profitability, ecological integrity, and social equity. “Our goal is to help students across the curriculum realize the unlimited potential that’s out there,” she said.
Anna Montoya ’13, a philosophy major who has volunteered with aid organizations for local farmworkers and mentored middle-schoolers, understands well the impulse to help those in need. But not until she was invited to serve on the discovery panel for the SESE Initiative did she ever consider an alternative to charity. “There is more than one way to make a change in the world,” she said. “A lot of people in my generation don’t see business as a viable option for themselves, but this concept has broad appeal, even for the kinds of students who wouldn’t ordinarily be interested in the for-profit world.”
Barns said even the students who can picture themselves working for profit envision a more equitable way of achieving their goals. “I have always felt that I would like my own life to have an impact on the world,” he said. “I happen to be good at business, but that shouldn’t preclude me from creating a positive change.”
Barns’ plan to put all this nascent social entrepreneurship to good work: When he graduates, he’s going to Tanzania to open an eco-lodge, which he expects to have a healthy triple bottom line.