Academic journal article Peer Review

Fostering Social Entrepreneurship through Liberal Learning in the Social Sciences

Academic journal article Peer Review

Fostering Social Entrepreneurship through Liberal Learning in the Social Sciences

Article excerpt

There is no one definition of entrepreneurship. Some view it as the process of creating innovation (Schumpeter 1934), of responding to the opportunities made possible by change (Drucker 1995), or of exploiting ambiguity (Stark 2000). Others see it as actively bringing about change in "how we see and understand and handle things or people in some domain" (Flores and Dreyfus 1999, 39; also see www.changemakers.com and www.ashoka.com). Dees, Economy, and Emerson (2001, 4) argue that the common thread running through these definitions is the idea that "entrepreneurs are innovative, opportunity oriented, resourceful, value creating change agents." This applies not only to business entrepreneurs but also to social entrepreneurs.

Although both business and social entrepreneurship emphasize innovation, opportunity, and change, social entrepreneurship differs from business entrepreneurship in some important ways. The key difference is that social entrepreneurs set out with an explicit social mission in mind (Dees, Economy, and Emerson 2001). Their main objective is to make the world a better place-to create social value.

Before you can teach social entrepreneurs specific skills in value creation, you first have to create an environment that nurtures nascent social entrepreneurs-those who not only "see" a problem that needs fixing, but also believe that they should do something. They must also possess sufficient critical observation and analysis skills to provide the confidence that they can do something about it.

The Social Sciences

The social sciences, as part of a liberal education, can play an important role in supporting nascent social entrepreneurs by providing a way of seeing the world that goes beyond individual experience and a way of explaining human behavior in the context of the social, political, economic, and cultural systems of a time and place. Students in the social sciences learn to empirically examine and assess complex problems by developing critical-observation skills. This is a necessary foundation for developing the ability to envision alternative responses and develop innovative solutions.

Stevens and VanNata (2002) contend that critical observation encompasses three core skills:

1. the ability to make a clear distinction between an event and the analysis of the event (i.e., the observed behaviors and the meanings we assign to them)

2. the ability to identify the assumptions, expectancies, and stereotypes we bring to our interpretations of behaviors and to recognize when we are relying on them rather than empirical evidence

3. the ability to identify the context in which observations are embedded-the constraints that surround behavior and give meaning to it

Consequently, students learn that reflection can lead to recognizing problems and imagining new solutions. This is the foundation of the entrepreneurial spirit: to see the gaps or holes that others do not see, and to envision alternatives that are rooted in explicit social value. If critical observation is the mechanism that links the theoretical to the real world of experience, how can it be developed to promote social entrepreneurship?

Service Learning

Community-based service learning provides the link between social science skills and knowledge and social entrepreneurship. Students can see meaningful applications of the curriculum while engaging in activities that improve skills such as critical observation, analysis, and application. In the best instances, students engaged in community-based service learning improve basic competencies while engaging in activities that also exercise their social conscience. Furthermore, the involvement, together with improved competence, can reinforce both academic and personal confidence, which is essential if student cynicism is to be transformed into innovation.

First Steps in Nurturing Social Entrepreneurship

I want to share a description of and reflection on my own initial effort to integrate social science concepts, community-based service learning, and social entrepreneurship. …

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