How colleges can help students succeed in the new era of social entrepreneurship
While attending CGI University last weekend for the first time as president of the Clinton Foundation, rather than a university president, I found it hard not to constantly remind students to study, get some sleep and keep their dorm rooms clean. But I know my worries are mostly unfounded — relative to other generations, today’s young people are all right.
In fact, what’s so inspiring to me as an educator is that Generation Y is more concerned about whether others are all right. They are doing things like earning money while distributing solar lights in remote towns in Nicaragua, providing zero-interest loans to low-income fish farmers in Nepal and building apps for LGBTQ asylum seekers in the United States. We’re in the midst of a social entrepreneurship boom that’s being led by millennials, many of whom have yet to graduate.
But students can’t go it alone. Colleges and universities have an exciting opportunity — and a responsibility — to help prepare young people for the reality of starting up. And schools should act now, because next to arrive is Gen Z, reportedly the most entrepreneurial generation yet.
There are many ways colleges and universities can keep pushing themselves to become bigger and better incubators for ideas, innovation, and inspiration for aspiring entrepreneurs. Here are a few ways for schools to position themselves as an influential force in this age of social startups.
1. Support the legitimacy of student ventures.
I’m a big fan of treating young people like they are the next startup CEO on the brink of changing the world—because with the right support, they very well can be.
Schools have an opportunity to convert the unparalleled optimism of the millennial generation into tangible social impact early on. For example, CGI U, which convened last week at U.C. Berkeley, brings together more than 1,000 college students each year to address some of the most pressing social and environmental challenges of their time. Established social entrepreneurs such as Jessica Matthews, the inventor of Soccket, and Ashifi Gogo, the founder ofSproxil, were able to develop ideas at CGI U during their college years because the platform takes student ventures seriously.
“Schools have an opportunity to convert the unparalleled optimism of the millennial generation into tangible social impact.”
In addition to external opportunities, schools can explore ways to provide practical experience on campus. While I was president of the University of Miami,The Launch Pad set up shop beyond the confines of the business school to incubate ideas and provide student entrepreneurs with resources such as mentorship. Upon signing up, participating students — who are treated as clients — fill out both a venture assessment form and a non-disclosure agreement.
I’ve found that students of all majors, genders and backgrounds appreciate the opportunity to explore entrepreneurship as a legitimate career. Since it first began, The Launch Pad has become wildly popular, and other schools have replicated it.
2. Embrace strategic partnerships
Incubating the ideas of student entrepreneurs is a big step, and I wouldn’t recommend any institution do it alone. Many of those at the vanguard of bringing social innovation to higher education are achieving impact by working together.
Babson College has established itself as a preeminent force in entrepreneurship education in part by joining forces with foundations, businesses and governments. Likewise, CGI U has seen success by extending the groundbreaking, partnership-based model of the Clinton Global Initiative to students and schools around the world.
“Many of those at the vanguard of bringing social innovation to higher education are achieving impact by working together.”
Collaboration can also help traditional colleges and universities stay relevant as they face competition from MOOCs, digital badges and other educational alternatives, which promise shorter time commitments and lower price tags. Schools such as U.C. Berkeley and Northwestern are staying ahead of the curve by teaming up with education startups to deliver free online courses that focus on 21st-century skills.
3. Consider seed funding
Social enterprises won’t get off the ground based on good intentions alone. Schools can prepare students for startup life by educating and empowering them to secure financial backing.
Many forward-looking institutions are now stepping up to invest in student ideas. U.C. Berkeley provides $5,000 grants to early-stage enterprises involving undergraduate or MBA students at the Haas School of Business. And this year, $900,000 in funding will be available to select CGI U 2016 students to help them turn their ideas into action.
There are promising examples of student seed funding at work. Sixto Cancel, an undergrad at Virginia Commonwealth University, is raising funds for a foster care hackathon to explore opportunities for tech innovation in the U.S. foster care system.
Sixto reports that he has raised more than $300,000 for his foster youth-focused organization Think of Us since its inception, which has allowed him to pay six employees and hire another 10 for college credit.
4. Make room for failure
All the mentorship and seed funding in the world can’t change the ubiquity of failure. Few people get entrepreneurship right on their first try — or even their third. It’s the responsibility of educators to prepare students for the harsh reality that 90% of all startups fail.
Failure sharpens leaders, fosters resilience and leads to smarter risks. We must challenge the stigma around failure that persists in academia. Shaming imperfection only stifles the innovation that colleges and universities can achieve. By creating a safe space for aspiring startup leaders to work out the kinks, schools can catalyze social entrepreneurship and maintain their competitive edge.
Social entrepreneurship is one of the most promising developments of the 21st century—and like the Millennial generation, the sector is still taking shape. I’m excited to witness higher education continue to evolve along with it.
This post originally appeared in Mashable. Watch the clip below for more of my thoughts on how college students can find their passion and affect positive change.
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