The Rise of Social Entrepreneurship: Transforming Students into Change Agents
- Nov 4, 2015
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As an incoming freshman, Benjamin Rathi had his mind set on a pre-medical path. Now three years later, he’s a business and computer science major who founded a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Blueprints For Pangaea, that will impact hundreds of thousands of lives worldwide by reallocating unused medical supplies.
Ben came into his college experience knowing little about entrepreneurship and admits to feeling “a bit risk averse” back then. Since, he’s been named Social Entrepreneur of the Year by the Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies, and has been actively involved in entrepreneurship in a variety of roles and organizations.
“As a kid, I always admired people in Silicon Valley for being at the center for entrepreneurship in the world, for constantly pushing humanity toward something greater,” Ben says.
Little did he know, one day he’d be that very entrepreneur pushing humanity toward something better. But instead of Silicon Valley, his journey began in Ann Arbor at the University of Michigan.
Higher education institutions across the country are seeing more students like Ben – young disruptors, innovators and entrepreneurs impatient to change the world. Many of them are already armed with the ideas, curiosity, and creativity to solve big problems by the time they sit down to hear their first lecture.
As the leading public research university, providing benefit for the greater good is part of our DNA at Michigan. And over the past several years, programs geared specifically toward social innovation and entrepreneurship have grown, mostly driven by student demand and in some cases even developed by students themselves.
“There are so many different opportunities available at the University of Michigan; different competitions, different races-to-the-finish on finding a solution for something. I really admire this program and that it allows people to come to a conclusion or solution after many months of searching for it.” Mikaela Rodkin, MBA/MS Candidate, University of Michigan, Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise, and participant in the Innovation in Action competition.
So what exactly is a social entrepreneur? While definitions vary, most social entrepreneurs are simply individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems. They are ambitious and persistent, tackling major social issues and offering new ideas for wide-scale change.
The movement is growing not just at Michigan but across the globe. More people want more from their job than just a paycheck, and social entrepreneurship is one way to get there. In a recent nationwide study by the national nonprofit Net Impact, researchers asked graduating students in the United States what they most want from their jobs and what makes them most satisfied at work. The study found that 72% of students polled said that doing work with positive impact on causes important to them is essential or very important.
Fortunately, Michigan’s growing array of social entrepreneurship programs and competitions give students the chance to witness the positive impact their ideas and research can make in the real world. According to one Danish study, the rise of social entrepreneurship programs like these is fostering an increasingly engaging approach among students entering competitions that solve real-life issues rather than merely entertaining competitions on theoretical cases.
Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Michigan
New and growing programs at U-M are driving social innovation and transformation in various fields including education, health, environment and enterprise development. Anchored in U-M’s top schools and colleges, most programs require a multidisciplinary approach and are open to all.
While the programs above are aimed specifically at social entrepreneurship and innovation, the opportunities don’t stop there. Programs at the School of Information and Center for Entrepreneurship at the College of Engineering have several opportunities and programs that are open to students interested in making a social impact, from the NY Trek with UMSI to The Startup competition and Jump Start Grants available through the CFE. Just last year, the CFE supported more than 18 social entrepreneurship student ventures. Arts-focused enterprises with a social mission can find venture support through the EXCEL Program in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, along with an minor in entrepreneurship practicum course devoted to creating social value through the arts.
Student Groups Driving Social Change
Student energy and demand has helped build social entrepreneurship programs across campus. Several student organizations are embracing social innovation and entrepreneurship and giving students meaningful educational experiences outside the classroom while working to change their community, the region and the world for the better.