Thursday 17 September 2015

Education for social entrepreneurship

Social entrepreneurship is important because it blurs the line between for-profit and non-profit enterprises, simultaneously opening opportunities between the two where both profit and positive social impact are desired outcomes. At the heart of social entrepreneurship lies the notion of using business principles, strategies and actions to have a positive effect on the wider community and society as a whole.

While definitions of the term “social entrepreneur” differ, there’s little doubt that the sentiment behind it springs from broader social concerns that are informing today’s generation. Today’s students want make their own contributions to the burning issues of their generation: the environment, world poverty and healthcare. This is where the wellspring of social entrepreneurship lies.

Taking aim at these issues using the principles of social entrepreneurship helps to create new solutions, not least because social entrepreneurship reframes the issues in a broader context. Social entrepreneurship education helps to refocus the lens and produce individuals who have the type of social entrepreneurship skills that can drive change in business objectives and solve social problems.

Consequently many higher learning institutions have recognised the importance of social entrepreneurship by creating formal courses, often as sub-courses in degrees like MBAs.

Social entrepreneurs as young leaders

Young social entrepreneurs can play a leadership role by infusing traditional business objectives with a social mission. The educational institutions charged with producing these young leaders need to make provision for them to learn the skills they need to reframe issues and create sustainable solutions out in the corporate world. It’s as much an existential issue as it is a practical one. Social entrepreneurship helps to answer some of the bigger questions that students and potential leaders encounter at tertiary institutions: “What is the broader purpose to my studies?”, “Why do I want to learn what I’m studying?” and “What am I going to do with what I have learnt?”. Institutions can help with this, not only by offering formal courses in social entrepreneurship, but by the social entrepreneurial environment that they can create within themselves.

Teaching social entrepreneurship is thus a key part of solving broader social issues. Entrepreneurial leadership types are characterised by drive and determination, the willingness to fail and persevere, and the ability to apply knowledge productively. These are also the characteristics of good leaders. So one can see how creating good leadership as well as social entrepreneurship are mutually reinforcing endeavours.

Social entrepreneurship in developing countries

The developing world is often a rich source of social entrepreneurship, for the simple reason that, in countries where poverty and a lack of infrastructure pose enormous challenges, the focus becomes using innovation, flair and determination to solve very basic social problems. This is an environment in which social entrepreneurship thrives. Most of this social entrepreneurship is focused internally on the countries’ own markets, and on addressing daily social problems.

The knock-on effect is that companies and other organisations from the developed world are able to take up on these social entrepreneurship ideas themselves, and use them in other contexts where they will prove to be of value in addressing similar issues.

Education often follows on, with tertiary institutions taking the lead from these companies and organisations and starting to include new social entrepreneurship ideas in their curricula in one way or another. And it is through this social entrepreneurship education that a new generation of students is given to the skills and tools to make an impact once they have graduated.

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