Reflecting its rising profile in universities, social enterprise was a hot topic at the Going Global international education conference.
After leading a panel discussion on this topic at Going Global, the British Council's annual education conference, Paula Woodman, the senior advisor of the British Council's Social Enterprise programme, offered insights on the growing profile of social enterprise in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and the ways in which universities can support the social enterprise movement internationally.
What was the key takeaway for you from Going Global?
There is a growing recognition that Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) need to work more closely with the social enterprise sector and offer courses on social enterprise. This isn't just about offering a new master's degree or MBA on social enterprise, it is more about having a cross-campus approach and offering courses on social enterprise which all students can access, so that someone studying biochemistry, for instance, can gain the skills and expertise to create a business with a social mission.
Why should HEIs offer such courses and support social enterprise? How does this align with their missions?
In order to attract students, universities need to be responsive to what people want to study. And for a growing number of them, that includes social enterprise and, more broadly, doing something that has a social purpose. Universities are also reacting to the growth of social enterprise globally which is creating opportunities for research and knowledge partnerships looking at the factors that influence how social enterprises can bring economic benefits and improve people's lives.
Moreover, HEIs in many parts of the world see themselves as having an important role to support the communities where they are based and to stimulate local economies by providing access to know-how and other resources. These concerns are naturally aligned with the mission and vision of social enterprises, so I would say there is a clear partnership opportunity between the two.
What important skills can aspiring social entrepreneurs acquire at university?
Social enterprise is a great tool for providing students with the enterprise skills that are essential in the modern world of work. And since social enterprise courses build on students' social or environmental motivations, they will appeal to a more diverse range of students than traditional business courses. Students will gain typical entrepreneurial skills such as marketing and finance but also learn about their theory of change and business models, how to measure their social impact and the importance of engaging stakeholders.
Can you offer examples of existing collaboration between the HEI and social enterprise sectors?
The University of Northampton in the UK has partnered with social enterprises by investing money and by sending students to do work placements at them. Moreover the University looks at how it can 'buy social' using its procurement processes to give social enterprises the opportunity to bid to provide services by, for example, working with a bakery that employs ex-offenders. These actions concretely illustrate the meaning of the Social Enterprise Agenda which the University has adopted - they turn aspirations into reality.
Another example is the Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU). In 2012, Professor Muhammad Yunus, chancellor of the University and a Nobel peace prize winner, launched a new charity, the Grameen Scotland Foundation, in order to help alleviate social inequalities in Glasgow, notably by providing microcredit for women starting businesses in the city.
Additionally, there is the joint initiative between (UnLtd) and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), to help Education Institutions embed support for social venture creation within. Through this partnership, 200 staff and student social entrepreneurs have been supported across 70 Higher Education Institutions in England. Rather than supporting social entrepreneurs directly, the UnLtd – HEFCE initiative supports Higher Education Institutions to find and support social entrepreneurs themselves.
Is this purely a UK phenomenon?
No, there are many examples globally. For example, in China, a philanthropic organisation called the YouChange Foundation has teamed up with Peking University to introduce a national initiative called Startup Cafe to promote social entrepreneurship to university students and utilise resources in classrooms that are also disseminated online. The Cafe is a credit course programme delivered in 35 universities consisting of 32 hours of learning within one academic term. Apart from the 35 universities which take the course as a credit teaching programme, there are about 30 universities also involved as a non-credit programme taken by student clubs and societies. In addition, about 18 social organisations have also been involved in this programme.
How can HEIs collaborate internationally to promote social enterprise?
At Going Global there were discussions about how a network could be created to enable sharing good practices and promoting social enterprise internationally. At the British Council level, our Higher Education team has run a series of policy dialogues in Canada, India, Hong Kong and elsewhere to share best practice in social enterprise education. Last but not least, we are looking at whether and how we can embed a social enterprise strand within our global Higher Education programme. We see many exciting opportunities ahead!
Paula Woodman is the global advisor for the British Council's 24-country social enterprise programme. Prior to joining that organisation, Paula co-founded a social enterprise which operates across the UK. She has been a key player in the UK social enterprise movement since 1999, advising policy-makers and social entrepreneurs alike.
Dimitra Tzigianni is an On Purpose Social Enterprise Associate for the British Council's 24-country social enterprise programme. Prior to joining the On Purpose Social Enterprise leadership programme, Dimitra worked as financial and CSR auditor for KPMG and Deloitte in Luxembourg and Greece and served as a business mentor for young social start-ups in Switzerland and China.
Content managed by British Council