The Business of Teaching Social Innovation

More business schools across the United States are adding or expanding their social entrepreneurship offerings. This comes in the form of adding an entrepreneurial track of courses that have a social innovation theme or even a concentration or degree in social entrepreneurship. Most of these programs focus on the differences in non-profit and for-profit initiatives and how to develop a double bottom line. One thing that is often missing is the content expertise that is often found in other programs that prepare individuals to enter the social sector.

Most biotechnology entrepreneurs have a background in the sciences and add a scientist, engineer, doctor or other type of expert to their team. They would not receive most types of venture funding without showing that they truly understood the science behind their innovation. The same should be true for social entrepreneurs. For those leaving with a degree in social entrepreneurship from a business school a concentration that provides content expertise (usually found in another department outside the business school) should be required, along with an internship or other real world experience in an organization already trying to address this issue. Being a management or marketing professional does not prepare you to understand the multitude of dynamics that impact large scale social programs. This is especially true for global social entrepreneurs. Using only an American perspective to address a social problem outside the United States will decrease the likelihood of sustainable change.

Another area where business schools may need to change their strategy specifically for social entrepreneurs is the focus on developing social innovations/ventures based upon opportunity rather than strategic needs assessment. Entrepreneurship, from a business school view, is often about entering a market that is full of opportunity with new a idea, where the entrepreneur can become a market leader. In social initiatives, there may exist several opportunities for innovation, especially for well-connected and highly educated professionals that can stand out and serve above the crowd. However, there are often also limited resources supporting the social sector and social problems have a variety of causes that may not directly align with the initial opportunity that an entrepreneur hopes to address.

If entrepreneurs use just a business process, to create an opportunity to work on an issue that they care about, they may miss aspects of collaboration, content expertise and support that allow for stronger social change. Developing social entrepreneurs who focus on opportunities and traditional business entry strategies, just crowds the field, decreasing the ability of global change to occur. Strong social entrepreneurship education, must prepare social entrepreneurs to focus on strategic impacts, develop a theory of change, understanding and building on the need for collaboration, and understanding root causes.

One strength of the increase in business schools adding a social focus to the their courses, is the impact this will have on traditional business models. For those solely entering the for-profit and corporate world, an understanding of double bottom lines can increase the overall societal benefits. It helps managers and executives to look beyond the cheapest option and to see which option will empower others. It also will hopefully increase corporate social responsibility programs allowing more organizations to be better global citizens.

Thenera is the President of The SISGI Group a consulting and research organization dedicated to addressing global issues through sustainable impacts and strategic global initiatives. To learn more go to

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