Friday, June 11, 2010

Villgro Blog: Social Enterprise Education, Part I

I am also a regular contributor to, and this post was originally published there. To see some comments on this post, click here. Many thanks to Ranjit Koshi for helping me to edit this article.

In “Social Entrepreneurship Education: Is It Achieving the Desired Aims?,” it is surprising that Brock and Steiner do not begin with a discussion of what the desired aims of social entrepreneurship education are. This question is only addressed in the last paragraph of their paper, and that too, implicitly. The last paragraph says:

…The ultimate question is what course content and designs are most apt to persuade
students to develop a social mindset and become service-oriented leaders of
tomorrow. The real test of our work is the choices and actions of our graduates. How
many will choose a career path working for a socially entrepreneurial enterprise or
starting their own social venture within one year, five years, ten years, and twenty
years after graduation?

To have students work for or start their own social enterprise are certainly two important aims of social entrepreneurship education, and were part of the list of aims that my colleague and I drew up when planning a minor in innovation and social entrepreneurship at the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras (IIT-M). These correspond to numbers 7 and 5 on our list respectively. However, I reproduce the entire list below in order to illustrate that there can be many other aims of social entrepreneurship education, that Brock and Steiner neglect to discuss.

1. To enable participants to understand what social enterprise is and analyze different models of social enterprises

2. To develop participants’ primary research and writing skills, through creating case studies of social enterprises

3. To develop a body of case studies on social enterprises in India that can be used in subsequent years, through the participants’ assignments

4. To enable students to experience the worlds of an innovator and social entrepreneur, through creating their own product or service and business plan

5. To create champions of innovation and social enterprise amongst participants

6. To create a pipeline of innovative products with the potential to create social impact, that students can further develop through Genesis (IIT Madras' Social Entrepreneurship Business Plan Competition) or other avenues

7. To contribute to building a body of talent for the social enterprise sector

However, Brock and Steiner’s paper is methodologically very strong. They analyze 107 social entrepreneurship syllabi in the U.S. and abroad, the greatest number of courses analyzed to date. In addition, while they say that their list may not be exhaustive, they collected their data both through an Internet search, and from faculty listed in entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship and nonprofit management databases and list-serves. Each syllabus they collected was then coded independently by two authors. They had two rounds of “practice coding” in order to refine the category descriptions and make sure that there was agreement among the authors.

Brock and Steiner analyze 13 definitions of social entrepreneurship, and identify 7 concepts most often cited in these definitions. We conducted a similar exercise as part of the minor at IIT-M, but using fewer definitions. The concepts Brock and Steiner identify are social problems/needs, opportunity recognition, innovation, scalability, resource acquisition, sustainable business model and measuring outcomes. They then provide a brief paragraph describing each, and suggest that these are the most important topics in social entrepreneurship education. While this provides a useful guide to the topics that any overview of social entrepreneurship should cover, it could be refined further.

Amongst Brock and Steiner’s findings, I was most interested in the tabulation of the top fifteen articles assigned by instructors. What surprised me is that none of the literature on the Bottom of the Pyramid is included amongst these fifteen articles. My suspicion is that social entrepreneurship courses, which are predominantly offered by universities in the U.S. and Europe, also tend to focus on social entrepreneurship in the West. There may be good reasons for this, which include the availability of practitioners as guest faculty, and of service learning opportunities in close proximity. However, the questions I am left with are, “How transferable is the knowledge gained through these courses to social entrepreneurship in the developing world? Are the social entrepreneurship courses offered in developing countries substantially different from those offered in the West, either in terms of readings, or in other ways?”

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