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Innovating The Student Body: Entrepreneurship In The Morrissey College

If it wasn’t a push, it was a nudge—and several University leaders are taking note. Managing for Social Impact was recently approved as an interdisciplinary minor in the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences and is now in finalization stages as a co-concentration in the Carroll School of Management. Information systems professor Mary Cronin, who spearheaded the initiative, sees the new academic offering as a case of the University finally playing catch-up with longstanding student interest in social enterprise and the non-profit sector—she said the idea simply needed a champion.

What exactly the program’s future looks like, however, is still very much in flux. The nascent initiative does not have dedicated financing within the Carroll School, and will exist—for now—as an amalgamation of tailored course offerings across departments and schools.

“Would it go in the direction of something like the recently established Shea Center for Entrepreneurship?” Richard Keeley, undergraduate dean of the Carroll School, said. “I don’t think so. Would it work in conjunction with the Shea Center? It very well might.”

Currently, there isn’t a plan to have a separate budget line for special programming in managing for social impact, although Keeley said that the Carroll School is open to helping out with flexible funds should the demand arise. BC—which was named an Ashoka Changemaker University in 2013 for its offerings in social innovation—has historically taken a more gradualist stance in developing programming on the topic, with much change happening through individual departments.

Keeley said that the traditionalist view of business education does not necessarily point toward programs such as this. With that in mind, he sees their emergence as inevitable.

“Social entrepreneurship is challenging because many rankings weigh student salaries. Go to work on your own startup [and] your salary will be way below the Wall Street Crowd.”

-Information systems professor John Gallaugher

“Why would we want to resist the evident student interest and the careful, thorough preparation someone like Mary and her colleagues put together?” he said. “I don’t think we’ll see this go off the rail.”

Still, challenges in both funding and student outcomes could potentially stymie the growth of social entrepreneurship at BC.

Information systems professor John Gallaugher, who alongside accounting professor Betty Bagnani leads the popular field study program TechTrek Ghana, said that in addition to being an onerous field for perspective founders, social enterprise often lacks the necessary institutional investment to get off the ground.

“Everyone’s excited about sinking money into a potentially billion dollar idea, but oftentimes the high-profit upside for social ventures isn’t there,” Gallaugher said in a recent email. “And on the business school rankings front, social entrepreneurship is challenging because many rankings weigh student salaries. Go to work on your own startup or for a social venture and chances are your salary will be way below the Wall Street Crowd.”

Gallaugher, however, is optimistic about the expansion of social enterprise at BC, arguing that the University’s Jesuit background and Boston location position it to be a leader in the field. He believes existing programs like the Office of Residential Life’s living and learning communities could also serve as powerful forces in bringing students together to found businesses.

“It took about three years to get BC’s entrepreneurship up to the point where our students were regularly gaining venture funding and gaining admission to elite accelerator programs,” he said. “I’m sure social entrepreneurship will have a similar trajectory.”

In earning its Ashoka Changemaker distinction, BC designated the School of Social Work’s Social Innovation Lab as the University’s “signature program” in the area. This lab focuses primarily on “intrepreneurship,” which is the practice of steering social change through existing organizations.

The University’s central entrepreneurial engine is the Boston College Venture Competition (BCVC), a program offering no-strings-attached financing to students with ideas for startups. BCVC Seed is a smaller branch of the initiative, led by Professor Laura Foote, centered exclusively on socially-focused pitches. Foote, who also teaches a course in social entrepreneurship and mentors several students in the area, said that there is a lot more BC could do in the field. She mentioned that the resources aren’t necessarily there in terms of faculty who can offer long-term support to students in enacting their ideas or serving as a clearinghouse for their projects.

“What you want to be able to do is diffuse responsibility so that it becomes an enterprise … that lives in the lives and interests of the students.”

-Richard Keeley, undergraduate dean of the Carroll School

Several area universities have dedicated institutes for social enterprise offering such resources. Harvard Business School, for example, has invested in social entrepreneurship since coining the phrase in 1993, integrating the discipline with its MBA program in 1994. It has since funded research and upstarts in the area. Northeastern University founded its Social Enterprise Institute in 2007, which now supports faculty publishing on social innovation and offers scholarships and grants for student. Also in 2007, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) created the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship, focusing more specifically on catalyzing projects and research that benefits those in low-income countries.

Keeley, who has served as associate dean of the Carroll School since 1995, sees student leadership as playing a central role in the future of social enterprise at BC. In his earlier work in helping develop the University’s PULSE service-learning program, he noted that such a shift in ownership was key to the program’s long-term success.

“What you want to be able to do is diffuse responsibility so that it becomes an enterprise which is not owned solely by the faculty or by the administration, but something that lives in the lives and interests of the students as well,” he said.

So far as the future of business education goes, he said that the recent interest in social enterprise, and entrepreneurship more broadly, will not be easily ignored.

“Well, if it’s well taught, then the people who are doing the instruction should really be paying attention to this,” he said.

Featured Image by John Wiley / Heights Editor

December 10, 2015

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