An Academic’s Perspective On Social Entrepreneurship

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Professor Thomas Lyons at Baruch College (CUNY) is trying to launch a program for social entrepreneurship. He’s finding though, that interest amongst students is rather limited.

We suspect it has something to do with the fact that most people are yet unaware of the possibilities in the field. In fact, the possibilities for doing good while generating profit remain largely unknown, especially so for struggling, debt ridden students. First, we must inform people.

Next, to promote a better understanding, Professor Lyons believes “we must talk to people in a language they understand.”

I met with the Professor to explore possibilities for collaboration and we discussed his perspective on the matter.

Social Entrepreneurship’s Industry Hurdles

Professor Lyons believes to be true what we have heard from many others closely related to the field; investors will become keen on funding social enterprises when there are models to a. measure social impact and, b. monitor the transparency of such organizations.

Not only are we watching for innovative financial models to support the industry, but we will also need to measure the corresponding risk and reward effectively. When such information is readily available, more mainstream even, the money should follow.

Social Entrepreneurship In Academia

While the financial hurdles are better known, the academic world faces a massive demographic problem. Professor Lyons points out that currently, “only elite schools have the resources and the demographics to successfully run social entrepreneurship focused programs.” At institutions like CUNY, “kids have to work hard for themselves,” he says.

They attend so that they may learn and succeed in spite of their limited circumstances. Often students are recent immigrants or first generation Americans. Products are not yet tailored to these students and we may still be far off. Also, considering the vast majority of students attend more affordable educational institutions, any developments in academia will likely affect the industry as a whole. It is therefore important, to begin discussions around teaching and researching innovations that generate profit and social impact.

The Future of Social Entrepreneurship

While the obstacles are many, Professor Lyons believes that “the movement is spreading, as evidenced by the new set of thought leaders in this area.” There is a lot more study now. There are more books, articles and people involved. The material and understanding has all expanded. More organizations of all kinds are onboard.

Undoubtedly we are heading in the right direction. The signs state that it’s only a matter of time before the social enterprise ‘movement’ catches on. Eventually, we will come to understand socially driven business as the only way to conduct business. And this will be the day we will be collectively enlightened, happier and more peaceable.