Social Entrepreneurship: Stop Managing Problems and Start Investing in Solutions

From FORDHAM NEWS.

Jeff Snell was walking through a Wisconsin Boys & Girls Club one day when a young boy darted down the hallway ahead of him. The branch executive, who was giving a tour to Snell (then president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee), said to him, “See that little guy? I had his dad, and his dad’s dad here, too.”

A light went on for Snell.

“I realized then that we had built an organization that was an amazing manager of multi-generational poverty, but we did very little to actually solve the problem. There’s a big difference between the two.”

Snell, founder of the Midwest Social Innovation LLC and co-founder of the Midwest Consortium for Social Innovation at Marquette University, described his foray into social entrepreneurship at Fordham’s Rose Hill campus on Sept. 9. The event celebrated the creation of the William J. Loschert Endowed Chair in Entrepreneurship, one of five chairs established in Fordham’s Schools of Business and funded by a gift from William Loschert, GSB ’61, with help from Mario Gabelli, GSB ’65. Gabelli’s endowed chair challenge partially funded the four other chairs in the Schools of Business as well.

Jesuit institutions such as Fordham and Marquette, which ground their pedagogies in the Jesuit mission of educating “men and women for others,” are well-poised to form students with “the wiring to be agents of positive change,” Snell said. A keen sense of social justice and an understanding of their own agency instill in these students the drive to tackle the world’s most pressing social problems.

To do that, he said, entrepreneurs (as well as innovators from any discipline) must confront a basic question:

“Are we managing the problem? Or are we investing in solutions?”

An example of social entrepreneurship is the Appleton, Wisconsin-based Community Outreach Temporary Services, which converted a defunct country club into public green space and gardens to provide job training for individuals from halfway houses, homeless shelters, and other community services.

Another example is The Ability Center, a gym equipped specifically for people with disabilities. Created by cancer survivor Damian Buchman, the gym makes fitness possible for the disabled population, thereby helping spare them from costly yet preventable problems such as diabetes and heart disease.

And the list goes on, including the Cristo Rey Network, which provides college preparatory education to urban students with limited educational opportunities; Marquette’s Humanoid Engineer & Intelligent Robotics lab, which makes robots that interact with children to help curb childhood obesity; and a smartphone app that scans clothing labels to screen whether they were produced by child labor.

Snell said that he has seen over and over again that once students are introduced to the concept of social entrepreneurship and shown real-world examples, their capacity to innovate proves endless.

“The students run with these ideas,” he said. “As an administrator or faculty member, you have to know when to get out of the way. Help them unleash their passion, and then let them go. It’s fun to watch.”

The Loschert Chair celebration was the second event in what is shaping up to be the year of social innovation at Fordham’s Schools of Business. A week earlier, author and The New York Times contributor David Bornstein urged Gabelli School of Business freshmen that their entrepreneurial innovation can help to solve the world’s most pressing social problems.

In addition, Fordham this year was named a “changemaker campus” by Ashoka, the largest global network of social entrepreneurs. The University joins 25 other colleges and universities around the nation—including Marquette—to be recognized for its efforts to change the world through social innovation.

“Fordham can rock this space. You’ll make contributions not only to the Jesuit cohort, but to higher education and around the world,” Snell said.