Beginning in 2015, social entrepreneurship students at Krannert will have the opportunity to take part in a study abroad program in Guatemala that is being developed by management professor Elaine Mosakowski. (Photo provided)

The Start of Something Good

Solving social problems one business at a time

Social entrepreneurship is the business of finding innovative solutions to fundamental social problems. “It’s not just about starting a nonprofit. It’s about really coming up with new ways to address homelessness, poverty, food insecurity, animal rescue and other important issues,” says Elaine Mosakowski, professor of management.

Mosakowski teaches entrepreneurship to undergraduate and graduate students at Purdue and is developing a study abroad program in Guatemala that will launch in 2015. Whether she is teaching a traditional entrepreneurship class or one specifically addressing social entrepreneurship, her goal is always the same: Get students to think about how their business can have a positive impact on the larger community.

“In the class, I talk about potential synergies between the commercial part of a venture and the social part of a venture, so a business is doing well both financially and in the community,” she explains.

For her undergraduate classes, one of the requirements is that students volunteer and connect with existing social organizations in the community. “It’s hands-on learning,” Mosakowski says. “Just go and immerse yourself. See if you can identify opportunities while you are volunteering and sitting next to someone who has a need.”

She also encourages students to pursue their passions. “We talk about entrepreneurs being passionate. When you talk about the social space, it’s different. A lot of times the projects are so personal — it may be a challenge you experienced, or strength you have, that you are inspired to share with other individuals.”

Mosakowski teaches entrepreneurship to master’s students in the Global Entrepreneurship Program (GEP), a partnership between Purdue, EMLYON in France and Zhejiang University in China. Students spend a semester at all three universities before earning their degrees.

Some students haven’t even thought about the social aspect of entrepreneurship before taking Mosakowski’s class. Others, like Helga Quijano, have fully formed ideas of social entrepreneurship projects.

Sustainable urban agriculture

Quijano plans to integrate a sustainable urban agriculture project with low-income housing in her home country of Colombia.

“The idea is to give them the cheapest, easiest, most productive system for producing crops. It will be a raised-bed system with a rainwater recycling system. It is something that works, and works around the world, and is not expensive,” she says.

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