Exploring Social Entrepreneurship at the Ashoka U Exchange

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by: Katie Aranas and Trerese Roberts

Social entrepreneurship is a trending topic around the world, but since it’s a fairly new concept, it can be difficult to understand. The organization Ashoka has made it their mission to build a community where people are “capable of responding quickly and effectively to social challenges, and in which each individual has the freedom, confidence and societal support to address any social problem and drive change.” Part of the organization, Ashoka U, focuses on colleges and universities to catalyze social innovation and social entrepreneurship in higher education. Last month, the group hosted their annual conference, the Ashoka U Exchange, in Miami, FL. There were over 750 participants, 150 colleges involved from around the world, and 100 sessions to attend. During the Exchange, Ashoka U offered site visits, workshops, panels, and keynotes. In addition, attendees were able to network during the lunch breaks.

We attended as student representatives from UMD and leaders of our Enactus chapter.  The first workshop we attended, “Social Entrepreneurship for All”, began by asking audience what the word “entrepreneurship” means to each of us in one word. Immediately, we could see that there was a divide between business and non-business majors when it comes to the field of Social Entrepreneurship. We discussed how to bridge the gap between both groups so that everyone engages in this field. One suggestion was to teach social entrepreneurship as a new ‘language’, while being aware of the terminology that is being used in different groups. Another suggestion made was to go out into the local community to see social entrepreneurship first-hand. Being able to see it in action is one of the best ways to really understand how it works and experience the impact that is gives. James Madison University created the “10-5-3 Challenge” in which students talk to 10 people that they did not know, have 5 questions prepared for those that they talk to, and have 3 stories to tell them about social entrepreneurship.

On our second day at the conference, we attended a site visit called “A Taste of Social Entrepreneurship” to see local food entrepreneurs at all stages of their development. We observed students in the kitchen learning about cooking techniques and how different dishes are made. A unique program that’s open to community members outside of the university, these entrepreneurs are given physical resources as well as access to mentors and coaches to improve their businesses.

We were able to meet and taste the creations made by the students from this program, which consisted of creations varying from ice cream to uniquely flavored teas. We also had one-on-one conversations with these local entrepreneurs. One of the entrepreneurs we spoke with was a founder of Lemon City Tea company, an ethically-sourced organic tea company that makes Miami-inspired teas with Latin American, Caribbean and South Floridian flavors to highlight these diverse cultures. Talking to her showed us that anyone can be an entrepreneur if they have the passion, mindset, and help of others.

On the last day, we attended a workshop called “Students Driving Institutional Change.” This session was about the various ways students were able to spread social entrepreneurship around campus. One of the first steps is to provide students with a space to have conversations about social change. This space is meant for students to gain a better understanding of what social change is, begin to brainstorm different ideas on how they can better their community, and spread the word on campus. We continued to discuss how we can engage other students to get involved and agreed that language is the most important element when talking about this topic. We need to make sure that we fully understand social change and be aware of the words we use to describe it. For example, “social entrepreneurship” may sound intimidating to a non-business major, but terms such as social change, changemaker, and social innovation may seem easier to understand and relate to. We discussed that students do not have to start their own businesses to be involved in social innovation. As long as they find their passion and purpose while helping society, they are changemakers. Another important step is to try to institutionalize social innovation and social entrepreneurship. Adding this into curriculum will spark initial interest, which can lead to higher involvement.

The underlying theme of this conference was how to get students more involved in social innovation and entrepreneurship. We have to ensure a common ground of understanding by using the correct language to engage them. Once they are engaged, we must connect them with something that they are passionate about. When this foundation is set, they will have a better understanding of social entrepreneurship and begin the changemaking.

Katie Aranas is an undergraduate student at the Smith School of Business double majoring in Marketing and Management. She is also the President of Enactus at the University of Maryland and a Project Leader for Annie’s Children.

Trerese Roberts is an undergraduate student at the School of Public Health majoring in Family Science. She is also the Vice President of Enactus at the University of Maryland and the Founder of Lunchbags for Humanity.

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