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Social Entrepreneurs Combine Coursework, Community

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March 16, 2010 – Georgetown students in three social entrepreneurship classes are fanning out over the city this semester to apply classroom lessons to real-life endeavors that seek social change.

The goal, said Sarah Stiles, who teaches Social Entrepreneurship: Leading Social Change, is to help support sustainable and ethical businesses.

"Social entrepreneurship is bigger than and something different from an enterprise, which is strictly a business term,” said Stiles, visiting assistant professor of sociology.

She said social entrepreneurship is "about creating systemic change.” Running successful, profitable businesses that tackle social issues, such as homelessness, unemployment or environmental concerns, can create that change.

Being a Witness to Social Challenges

Students in Stiles’ class combine academic readings and guest lectures with community-based projects. Some students, for example, work with Washington, D.C.’s Foundry United Methodist Church and the coalition group D.C. Jobs With Justice in creating a workers’ cooperative for day laborers in the city. An alternative to seeking daylong positions, the cooperative would create steadier jobs for workers, who would also share in the profits. The arrangement, Stiles said, will help combat wage theft problems faced by many day laborers.

Stiles’ students have provided services such as Web site design and the creation of marketing materials to help launch the cooperative.

Another group of students collaborates with Compass Partners, an umbrella nonprofit that trains college students to create social entrepreneurship ventures of their own. Founded by Neil Shah (B’10) and Arthur Woods (B’10), Compass Partners grew out of Stiles’ class two years ago.

Meredith English (B’12) assists one of Compass’ clients, M3E Consulting, which promotes social responsibility within small businesses. Georgetown students are helping M3E revamp its business model so the consulting firm may be a more effective advocate of social change.

Through her classroom and community-based learning experiences, English has come to appreciate how the class links students and fledgling social entrepreneurs with experts dedicated to bettering the community.

"I’ve really learned about the importance of having a wide network for social entrepreneurs to succeed,” English said. "Everyone brings something different to the table, so that diversity of perspectives and experiences is helpful.”

Stiles’ class is one of three courses this semester that incorporates social entrepreneurship into the curriculum. She along with business professors Richard America and Robert Bies received funding for their courses through a $125,000 Learn and Serve America grant secured by the Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching and Service (CSJ).

Further Meeting the Needs in ‘Our’ City

Bies’ Imagination and Creativity course gives his management students hands-on experience in developing products and services that will generate revenue for ONE DC, a nonprofit community development corporation. Students soon will pitch business plans to create positive social change while raising money for ONE DC.

America teaches a course, Community Development Finance and Strategy, that promotes inner-city entrepreneurship. This summer he will mentor MBA student consultants as they provide financial and strategic services to businesses in underserved areas of Southeast Washington.

"These strategies would apply anywhere there is a need for economic development,” America noted, "and it just so happens Southeast D.C. is such an area. We want to help meet that need in our own city.”

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