Northeastern convened more than 110 scholars and practitioners from around the world for a conference last week that explored the latest research in social entrepreneurship and the academic, entrepreneurial, and practical experience students gain from immersing themselves in the social enterprise sector.
Social enterprises are organizations that blend their business goals with creating positive social impact. The 11th Annual Social Entrepreneurship Conference was co-sponsored by Northeastern’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business and New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business. Throughout the three-day event, scholars discussed emerging concepts and themes in social entrepreneurship research through a variety of talks and panel discussions in addition to networking and breakout sessions.
“This year’s conference, hosted for the first time at Northeastern, was a huge success, both in terms of research content and community building,” said conference co-organizer Sophie Bacq, an assistant professor of entrepreneurship and innovation in the D’Amore-McKim School of Business. “Outstanding keynote speakers, together with Northeastern’s students, faculty, and participants from around the world contributed to advance knowledge on social entrepreneurship on many topics, including impact investing, benefit corporations, and social impact measurement.”
The first panel examined the effect social enterprise competitions hosted by universities around the world have on students. The panelists overwhelmingly agreed these programs provide students with powerful learning opportunities.
Moriah Meyskens, a clinical professor of management at the University of San Diego, has judged and studied through her own research the university’s Social Innovation Challenge, which is designed to help students develop new skills and their confidence while also supporting the launch of ventures that benefit society. She noted that two important lessons learned from observing the competition and engaging participants are that “students really value mentors” and that institutions can do more to help students implement their projects after these competitions conclude.
Conference co-organizer Jill Kickul, director of the NYU Stern School’s program in social entrepreneurship, agreed that these competitions provide transformational experiences for students. NYU’s annual $200K Entrepreneurs Challenge is an eight-month competition and accelerator program that includes training, bootcamps, and coaching through which students build their businesses.
Kickul said these competitions foster students’ entrepreneurial spirit as well as risk-taking and creating problem-solving—skills that transcend industries and career opportunities. “They’re building a skill set they can use for a lifetime,” she said.
Hugh Courtney, dean of the D’Amore-McKim School of Business, said in welcome remarks that the conference serves as an ideal venue to discuss cutting-edge research that shapes social entrepreneurship thought and practice. The link between academics and practice dovetails with Northeastern’s educational model anchored in experiential learning, namely through its signature co-op program. Courtney said that co-ops at startups in general—and social enterprises in particular—provide students with an up-close look at how all aspects of a business are integrated and even allow them to take on leadership roles early on in their career exploration.
“I can’t think of a more meaningful and effective way for our students to learn more about business than through an intense co-op experience with a co-op that excites their passion,” he said.
Students also gain this kind of real-world experience through Northeastern’s Social Enterprise Institute. The SEI—which was founded seven years ago and whose mission is “business for global good”—offers a range of resources, programs, and experiential learning opportunities. Last year, SEI enrolled more than 500 students, sent more than 100 to Africa and Latin America to do fieldwork, and engaged 200 students in service learning in the Boston community.
“Our students are very enthusiastic learners,” said Dennis Shaughnessy, SEI’s founder and executive director.