Social Entrepreneurship Education: Helping Our Students Make a Difference

The movement towards creating social value is gaining momentum among our students who want to make a difference. Compassion and empathy, coupled with the current state of inequities, has stimulated the need to take action. Our youth are told that they can change the world, but the tools that exist to help aid them in their crusade to make an impact are limited and scarce. As administrators, staff, and educators in higher education, we can help.

Housed in the Department of Liberal Studies at the Humber Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning, an elective on social entrepreneurship was introduced to support students who want to address social needs and create sustainable solutions through the principles of entrepreneurship. Jason Galea, Associate Dean of Liberal Studies, says, "Social Entrepreneurship in Liberal Studies provides the required 'space' for students to identify, study and confront social problems of their choice; it provides them with a curriculum and context for entrepreneurship."

Being an elective course, students come from different programs ranging from Sustainable Energy and Building Technology to Business Administration and Radio Broadcasting. Some want to change the world, some want to become entrepreneurs, and for some the idea of social innovation is intriguing. It is the range of experiences and interests that students bring to the classroom that create an engaging space where social entrepreneurship can be explored in an interdisciplinary way. The course offers students the opportunity to actively observe, critically engage, and develop the analytic tools necessary to succeed in our complex world.

Traditionally, we have bifurcated our activities into two separate pursuits: for-profit and not-for-profit. We have understood corporations to be high in profit potential and low on the social impact scale. Our traditional not-for-profit organizations rank high on social impact and relatively low in profit potential. Upon graduation, our students choose their career path and decide which activity they will pursue. However, the choice doesn't have to be either/or.

Social entrepreneurship opens the door to possibilities beyond the traditional concept of two sectors and the notion of a single bottom line. The third sector, the social sector, merges these traditional concepts, and instead of working towards a single bottom line, social enterprises work towards two: profit and impact. In this case, it's and/both.

Social entrepreneurship is relatively new and has typically been viewed as a course within an MBA program or a unit within an entrepreneurship course. Galea says "for a social entrepreneur, the entrepreneurial context is directly centered on the community or the collective, an area of study that is central to the Humanities and Social Sciences." Understanding what social value is, how it is created, and why it is difficult to measure are topics that provoke and can challenge our traditional beliefs of how our world operates. From world hunger and poverty to health care and education, the principles of entrepreneurship are used to help create new solutions to social matters by reframing the issue and focusing on context. Social entrepreneurship education helps with the process.

With a social mission central to their business objectives, social entrepreneurs strive to create change and solve problems. Young leaders at our higher education institutions are endeavouring to learn the skills to reframe issues and create sustainable solutions; they are aspiring to make change. Participating in the social entrepreneurial space allows students to access both sectors without sacrificing the benefits of each. Our institutions can help them develop the analytical tools that support social action, and nurture the solutions that they create.

It is through social entrepreneurship education that we not only impact the lives of our students, we impact those whose lives they change.