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NerdScholar Favorites: Social Entrepreneurship Programs

Jan. 30, 2014
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An increasing number of entrepreneurs are looking to do more than make a profit—they also want to make a difference. Dubbed “social entrepreneurs” by Bill Drayton, founder and CEO of social change network Ashoka, these go-getters are chasing dreams that are idealistic in nature, but rooted in sound business practice.

“Social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the fishing industry,” Drayton wrote in his book, Leading Social Entrepreneurs: Changing the World.

Today, many colleges are restructuring their courses to fit this growing demand. Between 2003 and 2009, the average increase in social entrepreneurial courses at leading MBA programs was 110%. These same schools also offered twice as many courses on nonprofit management as they did in 2003.

However, while a degree in social entrepreneurship, let alone the word itself, is fairly new—Drayton coined the term in the 1980s—social entrepreneurship in practice has existed much longer. John Muir is widely cited as an early social entrepreneur for his conservationist efforts that date back to the turn of the twentieth century. Muir petitioned Congress to establish the National Parks system in 1890 and founded the Sierra Club two years later.

NerdScholar researched the select universities, colleges, and community colleges that have incorporated social entrepreneurial training into the classroom. Below is our compilation of six exceptional schools that just might help students change the world.


Babson College

At Babson, the distinction between what does and doesn’t qualify as social entrepreneurship is growing hazier. This is in part due to the strength of its social entrepreneurship programs, which provide students with the necessary tools to build any type of successful venture, as well as Babson’s mission of educating “entrepreneurial leaders who create great social and economic value.” Babson proves its commitment to entrepreneurial education with its own methodology, Entrepreneurial Thought and Action®, which serves as the basis for its courses. In addition, the Babson campus houses two centers for social entrepreneurs, The Lewis Institute for Social Innovation and The Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship.


Middlebury College

As a liberal arts school, Middlebury doesn’t offer specialized degrees like social entrepreneurship, yet its Center for Social Entrepreneurship (CSE) has proved to be an outlet for student interest in the field. The CSE hosts a weekly speaker series and its Friday discussions about social change attract students, alumni, and community members. Each January Professor Jon Isham, director of the CSE, teaches a three-week long course entitled “Social Entrepreneurship in the Liberal Arts,” which culminates in the CSE’s annual Symposium. In addition, the CSE Fellowship allows students to explore social entrepreneurship over the course of a three-year period through relevant summer experiences, on-campus activities, and by designing and implementing their own project.


Pepperdine University

The Master of Arts in Social Entrepreneurship and Change (SEC) program at the Graduate School of Education and Psychology (GSEP) aims to reveal the root cause of broad social challenges, such as hunger, poverty, and homelessness. Pepperdine graduate students are required to travel internationally to study and develop solutions for these problems first-hand. “Central to the program is the belief that real change begins from inside, both within the person and the community,” says Margaret Weber, GSEP dean and SEC program chair. “It is from that foundation that students build their leadership capacity to effect change around the globe.”


Samford University

Samford’s undergraduates are able to earn a concentration in social entrepreneurship through the Brock School of Business. Program coordinator Jeremy Thornton says that Samford’s program “matches a new generation of business leaders with the skills necessary to address today’s most difficult social problems.” These skills are put to the test when students are partnered with local organizations to develop or improve existing initiatives. In accordance with Samford’s Christian affiliation, Thornton recently led several students on a trip to South Africa where they worked with Living Way Ministry.


Pennsylvania State University

The Humanitarian Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship (HESE) program at Penn State is open to undergraduate and graduate students in all majors. Program director Khanjan Mehta stresses that “this convergence is critical to well-balanced, high-preforming teams.” Though HESE offers in-classroom courses, the program centers on scalable projects that situate social entrepreneurship in the modern world. Recent ventures launched in East Africa include greenhouses, ceramic filter presses, and solar dryers—all of which are affordable and easily assembled.


Everett Community College

Global studies majors at Everett are able to narrow their focus by earning an endorsement in social entrepreneurship. The program equips students with the skills and knowledge necessary to start their own business within a global context. “It is no secret that all aspects of life are becoming increasingly globalized and business has been leading the way,” says Eugene McAvoy, dean of communication and social sciences. “This endorsement can help students prepare for the demands of global competition while not losing sight of the need for global cooperation.”


Data provided by Harvard Business Review 

Entrepreneur image courtesy of Shutterstock.