Center for Community Engagement

Doing Well by Doing Good

Four young alumni bring their stories of saving the world - while watching the bottom line - to Amherst’s first social entrepreneurship panel

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Amherst sophomore Megan Clower and Center for Community Engagement Community Partnerships Coordinator Oscar Lanza-Galindo came together to bring the evolving field of social entrepreneurship, and the lively dialogue surrounding it, to Amherst College. The panel brought four young alumni back to campus, and drew nearly forty students from across the five colleges. A family connection to Ashoka, “an association of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs,” familiarized Clower with social entrepreneurship, and inspired her to formally introduce social entrepreneurship to Amherst College.

Panelists included Emily Silberstein ’06 (Women’s and Gender Studies, Black Studies) the program manager for the Social Innovation Forum of Root Cause, Molly Greene ’01 (American Studies) the Boston executive director of Peer Health Exchange, Adam Stofsky ’98 (English, Philosophy), the founder and executive director of the New Media Advocacy Project, and Paris Wallace ’04 (Economics, Psychology), the founder and chief operating officer of Good Start Genetics. Each panelist holds, or is working towards, a graduate degree from Harvard Business School.

An Amherst junior, waiting to enter the lecture hall, explained that she was interested in the panel because “I need inspiration…I feel like I want to go to law school, but I don’t want to sell my soul.” This sentiment underlined Clower’s goal for the evening, to “spread the word on campus,” especially to students who otherwise might not seriously consider social entrepreneurship, resulting from its relatively low visibility at Amherst.

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Greene broadly defines social entrepreneurship as “innovative ideas to social problems, applying business principles, cost efficiency, getting a lot of bang for your buck,” nonetheless she stressed that self-styled social entrepreneurs often question one another’s definitions. Accentuating the term’s flexibility, Stofsky eschews considering social entrepreneurship not as “field in and of itself,” but rather as a “social movement, creating a new, passionate energy for entrepreneurial ideas, and new ways of thinking about social change.”

Aside from considering social entrepreneurship’s meaning, the panelists also imparted valuable advice on the students who hoped to become involved with social entrepreneurship. Silberstein describes social enterprise as a “clique,” and consequently a challenging environment to break into. Nonetheless, Stofsky explained “you don’t have to go to Harvard to be a social entrepreneurs…many of the best didn’t even go to college.” The panel stressed that successful social entrepreneurs possess tangible skills, and implored interested students to learn foreign languages, and basic financial skills, particularly QuickBooks software.

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Lanza-Galindo hopes that in the coming days, the CCE will help to promote added “recognition and understanding of not just the terminology, but the application, and real world implementation of social entrepreneurship.”  He hinted that professors, through partnerships with the CCE, might soon begin incorporating social entrepreneurship in the classroom. Furthermore, the CCE will offer an Interterm course on social entrepreneurship next January.

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This semester also features a talk by Ben Cohen, of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, an event Clower and Lanza-Galindo believe will significantly raise social entrepreneurship’s profile at Amherst College. Looking beyond the Fairest College, Clower hopes to ultimately see the creation of a Five College Certificate in social entrepreneurship.

Taylor A. Perkins ’11 is a staff writer for the CCE. He is a political science and black studies double major, and runs the quarter mile for the Amherst Track and Field team.