Academic journal article American Journal of Entrepreneurship

The Crossroads of Social Entrepreneurship, Community Engagement, and Learning Communities

Academic journal article American Journal of Entrepreneurship

The Crossroads of Social Entrepreneurship, Community Engagement, and Learning Communities

Article excerpt

Introduction

Scholars may aid in creating increased social impact through applied research, which "can further the work of practitioners and develop new tools and innovations for the good of society" (Brock & Kim, 2011, p. 5). Accordingly, an interdisciplinary instructional model branded as the Ripple Effect Learning Community (RELC) is presented here as one that may be transferable to other institutions (or to other levels of education). The setting in which this model has been developed and deployed is a regionally accredited public university located in western North Carolina (and the community in which it serves) with a population of approximately 10,000 students.

This paper is intended to contribute to an emergent field and provide other educators with ideas for new approaches to pedagogy and further research. As of this writing, the target audience for RELC has been first-year undergraduate students. Although the scope of RELC extends well beyond a single seminar, as a general observation those who participate in a first-year seminar experience "are more likely to report that their campus is a supportive environment" (Brownell & Swaner, 2009, p. 27). The RELC offers its students a wide array of impactful experiences, from the Pre-Semester Retreat, to the Community Engagement Project, to the curricular components, each driven by the process of critical reflection. For our students, initial feedback suggests the RELC model may affect reflective thinking and community service involvement preferences, with additional positive influence on grade point average and retention. There are many first-year programs (Elnagar, Perry, & O'Steen, 2011; Heiselt & Briley, 2010; Kuh, Cruce, Shoup, Kinzie, & Gonyea, 2008) that feature components within the RELC that achieve similar results for their students, but what does this experience offer to its students that is unique and critically important for their development as individuals, global citizens, and social entrepreneurs? When students have the opportunity to dive deep and intensively rally around a cause, topic, or curriculum that inspires and interests them, we believe that we can create the conditions for students to embark on a lifelong journey to impart change upon their world.

Both more advanced undergraduate and graduate students have expressed an interest in pursuing similar activities (evidence which, albeit anecdotal, seems encouraging). The RELC learning platform also exposes students to individualized service learning and community engagement activities, as well as largerscale social entrepreneurship concepts, in the form of a recognized Service Learning Course (SLC).

Social Entrepreneurship: A Pedagogical Opportunity

As a practice and academic discipline, social entrepreneurship is emerging, and still nascent (Enos, 2015). Additionally, education in social entrepreneurship also suffers "from a lack of a clear theorizing" (Pache & Chowdhury, 2012, p. 494). A meta-analysis of scholarly literature conducted by Hill, Kothari and Shea (2010) found that one of the challenges for the discipline is that "there is not yet a consistent and accepted definition of social entrepreneurship" (p. 6). Yet, the need for social entrepreneurs (and for the emergence of an academic discipline to support their development) is clear:

Societies around the world are facing significant social problems for which they often do not have cost-effective solutions. They also face uncertainty and rapid changes (in everything from technology to migrating populations) that lead to new, complex, and shifting problems, and open the door to new approaches to solutions. (Zeyen et al., 2013, p. 90)

While the definitions are varied (Ascigil, 2012; Bacq & Janssen, 2011; Dacin, Dacin, & Matear, 2010), relative to shaping our understanding of what we mean when discussing social entrepreneurship is Dees' (2001) conceptualization of social entrepreneurs as social sector change agents. …

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