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Feb 8, 2017

Entrepreneurship: What’s In It for Our Communities?

Entrepreneurship is all the rage.  We see it on TV in programs like Shark Tank and we read about it constantly in the press.  The context often is how to become rich or create a disruptive technology.  And for social entrepreneurship, the motive is often to create social impact beyond the current capacity of the traditional nonprofit model.

I just attended a program that has helped me to a better understanding of why I put so much emphasis on social enterprise and entrepreneurship.  It helped me to realize that entrepreneurship is a process that is always meaningful, whether or not it results in the launch of a successful new business.

This realization came to me at Linmoor Education Center in Columbus seeing the Options for Success Entrepreneurial Capstone presentation.  I saw four students, who four weeks ago saw little value in staying in school, make presentations that revealed their excitement, motivation, and accomplishment in learning new skills.  What allowed this to happen was the commitment of a superintendent, principal, and two teachers to try something new – an experiential approach to education through entrepreneurship.

This approach, founded by Doris Korda of Columbus, is spreading across the globe.  It is currently housed at Hawken School in Cleveland, soon to be spun out into a Columbus nonprofit called Wildfire Education.  As she describes it, the approach uses entrepreneurship as a platform to help students “master skills in creative problem-solving, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and citizenship by working on problems that are meaningful to them.  They turn ideas into successful realities through the entrepreneurial process and develop substantive confidence as they experience the power of their own abilities.”

My revelation?  This is exactly how I describe the benefits which social entrepreneurship brings to young people looking to launch their own social enterprises  and to nonprofit leaders and managers looking to diversify their revenues.  They learn to take risks by trying something new through rigorously researching the market, competition, value proposition, and commercial viability of new ideas.  We have repeatedly seen these skills develop in the individuals we have helped to explore a social enterprise concept.  After the program, these skills remain as evidenced by nonprofit data that show a strengthened nonprofit, even when the conclusion of the effort is to not launch the social enterprise.

We need to recognize that the value of exploring social entrepreneurship is not exclusively to become an entrepreneur.  Rather, the value is always to have a meaningful experience in how to solve problems and develop new skills to solve problems.  This experiential, entrepreneurial training has value to students, young professionals, and seasoned nonprofit executives.

Some entrepreneurs become rich and famous and create global companies with recognized brands.  But I support social entrepreneurship because, while it can create valuable social impact, it always creates more innovative, smarter problem solvers.  And that is what our community needs most to thrive if we are to thrive in the coming decades.

 Still need convincing?  Look at our Directory of Social Enterprises, follow our tweets and Facebook postings of new developments.  Buy from a social enterprise.  You will be amazed at the energy and innovation we see every day.

Allen Proctor, President & CEO

Center for Social Enterprise Development