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Social Entrepreneurship at NMH

This first post seeks to outline the need for social entrepreneurship (SE) at NMH, while proposing a vision for its wider presence on our campus. It begins with an explanation of social entrepreneurship and its place within NMH.

What is Social Entrepreneurship

“What is Social Entrepreneurship” and “Who is a Social Entrepreneur” have become oft-asked questions of late. If entrepreneurship entails what 20th century economist Joseph Schumpeter coined, the force of “creative destruction” across markets, what does adding the descriptor “social” do to it? If entrepreneurship promises innovation that is disruptive to existing markets that are ineffective or inefficient, how can entrepreneurship be applied to social issues in similar ways?

Social entrepreneurs do in fact borrow lessons and principles from the business sector in addressing pressing social problems. Understanding one’s target group, building a realistic business plan, and learning from experiences are all an integral part of a social entrepreneur’s work.

However, the landscape that social entrepreneurs work on is different from their counterparts in traditional business. Social entrepreneurs see an even bigger ecosystem than the market. By definition, social entrepreneurs must be focused on their society as a whole. Profits should be measured by entrepreneurs of all types, but for the social entrepreneur the idea of profits must be redefined. It is not financial, but rather social profit that must be prioritized. In what ways does your after-school program produce increased capabilities for your students? How does your new system of living for disabled people allow them to live more fruitful and enjoyable lives? These are questions that social entrepreneurs have been asked, and must confront themselves, as they have built ventures designed to change society for the better.

Why We Need Social Entrepreneurship at NMH

Young people engaged in active learning about entrepreneurship and social profit are being prepared to take up flexible, creative, and compassionate roles in our society.  This work should be happening on the high school level, and NMH offers an ideal setting to be a leading center for social entrepreneurship.

The idea of social innovation runs deep throughout our institution’s history. In many ways, Dwight Moody was an archetypal social entrepreneur, finding a way to extend world-class education to those who could not afford it.  NMH might now be developing a next generation of Dwight Moodys, focused on making a more just and sustainable world. If we succeed, we will continue to fulfill Mr. Moody’s call for his schools to be a “blessing to the world.”

Ultimately, in line with our wider mission, our progress and success as a leading program in social entrepreneurship will be measured through our students’ increased ability to act with humanity and purpose.

Rhodes Fellowship Course: Social Entrepreneurship at NMH Today

As currently constructed, the Rhodes Fellowship Course in Social Entrepreneurship is a year-long class offered to eight selected fellows in their junior year at NMH. The course begins by exploring critical introductory questions to SE, while students become more familiar with telling their own story and listening to others explain theirs. During this time, students also begin to hear from and interact with social entrepreneurs from across a variety of fields.

In the second unit of the course, students are split into two teams as they develop and propose a social enterprise that is connected to our local community in Greenfield. This four-month long process happens with the support of community partners, as students begin to learn more about the school’s surrounding area and the process of building a social enterprise.

For the final part of the course, students work in new self-created teams as they build their own social enterprises while utilizing experiences and knowledge gained from the rest of the course. As they design their enterprise, students will be advised by a team of volunteers with varied experiences and expertise.

Throughout the year, students build critical skills including communication, reflection, and perseverance.

Social Entrepreneurship at NMH Going Forward

Our vision for Social Entrepreneurship at NMH extends beyond one course. Already in this pilot year, we seek to broaden the understanding of SE on our campus through workshops led by our “Rhodes Fellows” and through inspiring speakers brought to campus. We eventually aim to have multiple courses open to additional Rhodes Fellows. Further options for non-fellows to engage in social entrepreneurship would also be extended. An innovation lab would allow all students to propose, prototype, and collaborate on ideas to effect positive social change. Competitive grants would allow students to test their ideas within their own communities during the summer break.

Social entrepreneurship is in line with our mission and our school’s greater vision of prioritizing “education in action.” Students actively engaged in social entrepreneurship are also inherently focused on “resilience, sustainability, and citizenship.” Building a wider Center for Social Entrepreneurship at NMH will allow us to directly meet the goals we have set for ourselves in educating our next generation of students.

Grant Gonzalez
Director of Global and Leadership Initiatives