Guest column: Social entrepreneurship - The Diamondback : Opinion

Guest column: Social entrepreneurship

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Posted: Sunday, December 2, 2012 8:56 pm

Eighteen months ago, university President Wallace Loh announced the launch of a Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, with the vision “to make innovation and entrepreneurship an integral part of our academic culture.” The idea was to integrate the various initiatives and opportunities across the campus under one umbrella — certainly no small task at a school of 37,000 students across 13 distinct colleges and schools.

The Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship, for example, has been connecting students to tools, resources and networks since 1986, while the Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute (MTECH) has had a multibillion dollar impact on this state’s economy since 1983. The public policy school’s Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership has also provided the tools and experience for students to develop nonprofit ventures (including its annual Do Good Challenge).

With this expertise now under this CIE umbrella, there is a great opportunity to promote the concept of social entrepreneurship (i.e. for-profit businesses that also have a positive impact on people or the planet) across the campus. Currently, the Center for Social Value Creation at the business school has taken the lead on this initiative. However, not all universities choose to house their social impact initiatives within the walls of their business schools; schools such as Middlebury and Georgetown, for example, take a more campuswide approach to such initiatives. Which begs the question: Should social entrepreneurship live only in the walls of Van Munching Hall?

I approach social entrepreneurship from a business perspective. To be a successful social entrepreneur, you must start with the basics — good business practice in areas like strategy, finance, marketing and human capital. Social entrepreneurship isn’t about a “doing good” sticker; it’s about passionate people changing the world for the better and being willing to acquire the business skills to make it sustainable. Thus, students from any walk or major — global health, education, agriculture, law and so forth — can utilize social entrepreneurship.

Successful social entrepreneurship’s roots are in best practice business approaches, so managing it out of the business school makes sense. However, since its actionable agents are from all majors, it behooves the CSVC to continue engaging partners and stakeholders from across the campus. And future migration away from the business school (e.g., as part of the CIE) should keep this duality of components (i.e. management-driven approaches combined with cross-disciplinary application) in place.

As this university continues to establish itself as a leader in the art of taking ideas from paper to product to action to market, it is comforting to know social entrepreneurship is part of the conversation. My optimism aside, this facet of the venture creation process is imperative should new businesses seek to survive in a future of constrained resources. It is not enough to come up with world-changing ventures that only seek to serve the owner’s financial bottom line. We, as Terps, must support those entrepreneurs seeking to deliver value to society in addition to themselves; if we don’t, we are neither the leaders in innovation that we profess to be nor are we producing those of the future.

Guillermo Olivos is the assistant director of programming and social entrepreneurship at the Center for Social Value Creation at the business school. He can be reached at gmuraski@rhsmith.umd.edu.

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