The 2016 Irish Impact Conference will take place on Thursday, October 27th and Friday, October 28th, just preceding the Notre Dame-Miami weekend. The agenda is forthcoming, but will include Amon Anderson co-director of Acumen America in the keynote slot. Please consider joining the Notre Dame community for this exciting event. Register here!
For the last 10 years I have had the honor and privilege to teach social entrepreneurship at Notre Dame. Social entrepreneurship is not a static discipline with time-tested theories and formulas, but is dynamic with a past, a present and a future. The past is rich and storied; the present exciting, albeit ambiguous, with tenacious stakeholders at work; the future is unforeseeable, but shows tremendous promise, due in large part to the Millennials and Generation Z.
It is a past that includes looking beyond traditional forms of charity, and asking why these problems continue to exist. When Matthew’s gospel indicated that the poor will always be with us, it was not meant to be a prophecy.
Muhammad Yunus, founder of one of the largest microfinance organizations in the world, Grameen Bank, and winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, admonishes us, saying, “When we want to help the poor, we usually offer them charity to avoid recognizing the problem and finding a solution for it. Charity becomes a way to shrug off our responsibility. But charity is no solution to poverty. Charity only perpetuates poverty by taking the initiative away from the poor.”
Yunus is one of our foremost problem-solvers (some might call him a trouble maker). He is part of social entrepreneurship’s past and present, building a foundation for social finance innovation over the last 40 years that includes the provision of small loans to otherwise excluded women and men. He and others like him have moved many from subsistence to market-based activities.
The landscape includes present-day social entrepreneurs who are writing their own stories. They may be less renowned, but are leaving a profound mark. Forbes’ 30 Under 30 recently included Patrick Woodyard, co-founder of Nisolo, an on-line retailer for handcrafted shoes and accessories that provides fair wages to employees and people in their supply chains – from Peru to Kenya.
In less than two months, Amon Anderson, co-director of Acumen America, will be Irish Impact’s keynote speaker, talking about Acumen’s approach to problem solving. People may know Acumen as the brainchild of Jacquelyn Novogratz who has been honored at Notre Dame multiple times for her pioneering role in bridging the gap between entrepreneurs and investors with patient capital. Acumen America launched earlier this year to invest in high-growth, high-impact entrepreneurs, and is changing the way poverty is tackled in the US. Acumen America is focused on Seed and Series A stage investing in the health, financial inclusion, and workforce development sectors.
At the heart of social entrepreneurship are people who are trying to solve problems that matter and who are trying to solve them in socially, environmentally and financially sustainable ways. In fact, what if we re-branded social entrepreneurship as just that – solving problems that matter? Rather than bifurcating entrepreneurship into traditional or social, for profit or not-for-profit, why not view entrepreneurship as an inherently social/environmental activity? One that provides access – to employment; to health care; to education; to people at the bottom of the economic pyramid, whether here in the US or abroad; to affordable housing, to healthy food, etc.
We tend to talk about entrepreneurship in exclusive terms – target markets, customer segmentation, competitive advantage. And there is certainly a need to attend to business models that work. What if we re-framed entrepreneurship, however, as less about exclusivity, and more about inclusivity, where everyone has access. Nisolo’s customer segment may be more affluent, for example, but their supply chain provides employment to those who might not have access otherwise.
In Case Foundation’s A Short Guide to Impact Investing, the authors write, “we face urgent challenges of poverty, inequality, health and climate change, domestically and around the world. Neither government, nor philanthropy, even combined, are equipped to solve these problems alone. Entrepreneurship unleashed is powerful. We need all hands on deck, all oars in the water.”
The list of problems may be long. We believe inclusive entrepreneurship is the solution. What role will you play in this ever-changing landscape? What will your Irish Impact be? Join us for Irish Impact 2016! Register now!
Melissa Paulsen is an assistant director at the Gigot Center for Entrepreneurship in the Mendoza College of Business, University of Notre Dame. She serves as director for the Center’s social entrepreneurship program as well as concurrent professional faculty in the undergraduate and graduate programs. For more information about Irish Impact, please visit the Irish Impact website or contact Melissa at firstname.lastname@example.org.