Erin Krampetz

Erin fosters the strategic development and growth of the Ashoka U community of practice with the goal of supporting colleges and universities everywhere to become hubs of social innovation.

Babson College: Social Entrepreneurs Action Learning Network

Many students seek to become social entrepreneurs after they graduate, but few of them receive support to do so. The Babson Social Entrepreneurs Action Learning Network (SEALN) pairs students with faculty and peers post-graduation to help improve their chances of success.

This past year the graduating cohort of Ashoka Changemakers at Babson College participated in the SEALN. Led by Cheryl Yaffe Kiser, Managing Director of the Lewis Institute on Social Entrepreneurship, and Julie Manga, Social Entrepreneurship Catalyst, these graduates have received intensive and individualized support in the weeks and months after they left the university. Both Cheryl and Julie felt there was a need for this more integrated approach because traditional course offerings do not address all facets of social entrepreneurship. As Julie Manga says, “‘there is what you have to know and who you have to be” to launch into a career as a social entrepreneur.

Thus, the SELAN works with the young social entrepreneurs to identify what they are committed to accomplishing in their first year out of school, while identifying personal and profession development goals. Julia Manga, as the facilitator and coach, partnered with the graduates to help them recognize personal strengths and areas of growth that they would like to develop further. The program is completely focused on supporting the cohort based on their individual needs.

In addition, via the SEALN, the cohort receives support from their peers. Every two weeks members of the cohort speak one-on-one with Julie and then participate in a group call. Conducted year-round, this comprehensive coaching process accommodates the real world rather than an academic calendar.

The inaugural cohort will now “pay it forward” to share their own experiences and lessons learned with this year’s cohort. This interaction helps to build a lasting community of practice, and faculty benefit from working side-by-side with social entrepreneurs as they implement their ideas, thus bringing the knowledge gained by the recent graduates back into coursework through action research.

The results have been positive due to the human centered approach of the program. SEALN recognizes that social entrepreneurship depends on personal characteristics such as tenacity, resilience and creativity, and the program integrates skill development as a key part of the learning process. Reflection on critical skill-sets needed for social change, and a healthy mindset, cannot be separated from knowledge development or what students need to know. The conventional classroom-based approach typically gives few outlets for discussing and addressing these issues.

How did the SEALN program get started? Cheryl Yaffe Kiser developed SEALN through her own institute at Babson. For faculty at other institutions interested in launching a new program, Cheryl recommends thinking creatively about cultivating relationships with administrators and decision makers. She also recommends contacting alumni who are committed to social innovation who may serve as advisors or funders. Even though it may take time, the development of entrepreneurial initiatives within higher education can help faculty maintain their commitment to innovative teaching as many colleges and universities are forced to scale back.

As Cheryl put it so eloquently, “supporting students in their entrepreneurial endeavors is rewarding for the faculty because these students are up to something big.”