Social Entrepreneurship and Meaningful Work

What is Social Entrepreneurship?

When we hear the word “entrepreneur” we immediately conjure up images of an innovator, risk-taker, and creator. An entrepreneur is someone who sees a problem, develops a solution to that problem, and builds a business around that solution. By a similar token, a social entrepreneur applies these same skills toward problems that manifest themselves through some form of social inequality. While a social entrepreneur can make money on this venture, the emphasis is on the problem-solving and betterment of the target group.

Stanford University’s Social Innovation Review outlines three components in its definition of Social Entrepreneurship. It begins by identifying a segment of humanity that suffers from some form of injustice through exclusion or marginalization. It follows by identifying an opportunity to correct this inequality and developing a potential solution. The final component is implementation to forge a new equilibrium that alleviates that suffering and ensures a better future for this group and possibly society as a whole.

Why is This Type of Work Important for Kids?

This article from Business News Daily describes what it takes to be an entrepreneur. The writer gathered twenty quotes from company founders regarding the characteristics of an entrepreneur, which include traits such as persistence, a willingness to embrace change, and having a passion for learning. Now compare these concepts with Costa and Kallick’s 16 Habits of Mind, dispositions that empower creative and critical thinking.

HabitsofTheMindChartv2
From the Institute for Habits of Mind (http://www.habitsofmindinstitute.org)

Costa and Kallick promote these habits as essential for child development, to create “a more thoughtful, cooperative, compassionate generation of people who skillfully work to resolve social, environmental, economic and political problems.”

Do these lists look similar? They should.

While traditional schooling may measure a child’s knowledge of content, we must acknowledge that true learning encompasses much more than what facts one can recall or what processes one can perform through memorization and practice in order to demonstrate learning. There is clearly more to life than the ability to show what you know through standardized, multiple-choice tests, but unfortunately these instruments have dominated the manner in which we assess student learning in school.

We should all agree that having the courage to take risks, being flexible and adaptable when faced with unforeseen challenges, and developing grit are all valuable traits for any field of work. Today’s world requires us to be empathetic critical thinkers, evaluators of information from a multitude of sources, and synthesizers of data. It requires us not just to know, but to take action with what we know.

While we may struggle for an efficient method to accurately measure and quantify these characteristics in children, we nonetheless must value them as critically important to the growth and advancement of our students. We must look for ways to provide learning experiences that embrace the exercise of these skills and habits.

I recently attended a gathering for school leaders and new school founders. In one of the consultancies there a school founder with over 20 years of experience in creating new schools said, in the context of the work we do to design powerful learning environments for our students, that “we are not in the business of prediction, but rather the business of opportunity.”

I agree. We are not in this work simply to tell students what to do. We are here to open doors, to guide students in what is important for them, and to provide the learning environment that best suits their ability to shape their own learning path.

How Does This Look at My School?

Starting with the end in mind, our 8th grade faculty and key administrators have created a program called the Passion Project, now in its second year. Consider it the capstone project that every 8th grader must complete prior to graduation. Each student in this program is tasked with designing a project around her/his personal passions that has a connection in some form to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. While the project has a foundation in these global issues, the topic, design, execution and presentation are chosen and developed by each student. In addition, the problem selected by the student is in most cases a local one.

As social entrepreneurs, students seek out a problem they find value in pursuing and work to solve or bring awareness to that problem. They interview people related to the problem, develop prototypes in digital or analog forms, create a website to document their work, and present their experience to an authentic audience of adults and peers.

To prepare students along this path of personalized learning, students in 7th grade experience an interdisciplinary project called SPLASH, focused on Los Angeles and the issues of health and wellness. As with the Passion Project, students will take on a project in an area that interests them most. This is our first year in this project, and thus results of student work are yet to be seen. I know we will have much to learn from this inaugural year.

In sixth grade, students experience this project-driven, creative, and meaningful work through the Legends of the Trash Creatures (LTC) with its focus on environmental issues. While the emphasis is not on social entrepreneurship, many of the same habits and practices are embedded into the project work during LTC, as they work in small groups to design and build a 5 foot tall creature out of recycled materials and trash with embedded robotics for interactivity.

In support of student work during all of these projects, the school provides a fully equipped makerspace for prototyping and project development. Additionally, students each have laptops for coding, writing, research, web development, graphic design, and any modeling required for digital fabrication.

There is more to come in the months and years ahead. As lifelong learners ourselves, the faculty reflect on these projects each year to see where to modify, improve, and re-envision as necessary. And the work doesn’t end with these three projects. More opportunities for student-driven, passion-driven work exists within the framework of school. Our task is to find the connections, forge the relationships and develop the programs to further provide opportunities for our students to be creative, practice empathy, learn from failure and persevere. In my early days as an educator we referred to these habits and traits as “21st Century Skills.” Now that we are two decades into this century, let’s just call it life.

 

References:

Martin, Roger L., and Sally Osberg. “Social Entrepreneurship: The Case for Definition (SSIR).” Stanford Social Innovation Review: Informing and Inspiring Leaders of Social Change, Stanford University, 2007, http://ssir.org/articles/entry/social_entrepreneurship_the_case_for_definition.

Fernandes, Paula. “Entrepreneurship Defined: What It Means to Be an Entrepreneur.” Business News Daily, Business News Daily, 19 Feb. 2018, http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/7275-entrepreneurship-defined.html.

Costa, Arthur L., and Bena Kallick. “‘Educating for a More Thoughtful World.”.” The Institute for Habits of Mind, The Institute for Habits of Mind, http://www.habitsofmindinstitute.org/.

“About the Sustainable Development Goals – United Nations Sustainable Development.” United Nations, United Nations, http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/.

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