By Amit Kakkad and Phil Blair
Today’s students are encountering new challenges: the business landscape is changing rapidly and our environment is on the brink. The good news is college students in San Diego and around the world are paving the way to new solutions — and it’s time for businesses to follow their lead.
As leaders in academia and business, we agree that a bright future for our economy and society is possible if companies adopt a triple bottom line of planet, people and profit. This requires a new kind of leader: a changemaker who can develop a nuanced understanding of a social or environmental issue and identify gaps in the approaches currently deployed to solve it. This is what we now know as a social entrepreneur.
University of San Diego students Casey Myers and Momo Bertrand are examples of such changemakers. When traveling abroad, Casey recognized a need for foundational skills among people in refugee camps. In response, she partnered with Momo to create One Digital World, a social venture that teaches refugees digital skills before they resettle, so they can arrive at their new home ready for employment.
With more than 200 social venture programs in the United States alone, Casey and Momo are part of a growing movement. Driven by the belief that earning profit and improving their communities can coexist, these young entrepreneurs are armed with ideas and creativity to tackle our world’s most pressing issues.
This is where student venture pitch competitions come in. These programs allow young people to witness the positive impact their ideas and research can make in a capitalist world. And the students’ task goes beyond dreaming up a better world; they must develop ideas for holistic systemic change that solves a constantly evolving social or environmental issue in a sustainable manner — while also running a profitable business.
San Diego is at the forefront of this worldwide social entrepreneurship movement through the Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge at the University of San Diego, launched in 2011. The challenge harnesses the social and environmental consciousness of local students across more than 25 universities in six continents. The program is in the midst of building one of the most powerful networks of educational institutions and businesses across the world to share learnings, leverage strengths and provide a bigger platform for entrepreneurs to create impact.
And while a few social enterprises might launch as a result of the Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge, that’s not its primary purpose. These social entrepreneurship programs provide participating students with a hands-on opportunity to combine personal success with positive social impact, and resource them with intensive career preparedness training along the way. Students learn the skills necessary to thrive in a post-secondary or workplace environment through mentorship and network connections with established local and regional social enterprise leaders from organizations including Manpower San Diego, Kitchens For Good and San Diego Blood Bank.
In the business world, contemporary work is about what’s now and what’s next. Through social venture pitch competitions, we see what’s happening now is young people are creating new business models and working within paradigms of sustainable change to make the world a better place. And what’s next is social entrepreneurship as an integrated and necessary part of any organization’s product or service offering.
Social entrepreneurship is gaining momentum far beyond academia; a new generation is increasingly blurring the line between philanthropy and business. Business owners such as members of Business for Good San Diego are proving right in our backyard that organizations can simultaneously turn a profit and act as vehicles of social change.
College students in San Diego and beyond are offering us a glimpse into our future economy and the health of our social fabric, and it’s time for local business leaders to pay attention. These young people are addressing world problems systemically, ensuring a more economically sound and sustainable future for San Diego and the world. It is up to us to continue cultivating this social entrepreneurship way of thinking with our students, and look for ways to adopt them in our own practices.
Amit Kakkad is the director for the Center for Peace and Commerce at the University of San Diego. Phil Blair is the executive officer and owner of Manpower San Diego, Riverside, Las Vegas and New Mexico.
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