Michèle Leaman

Michèle works with faculty, administrators, and students to change complex institutional systems to become more supportive environments for social entrepreneurship and changemaking.

Mason Center for Social Entrepreneurship: Hybrid Partnerships Driving Community Change

The GMU Changemaker Campus team: (back row, left to right) Greg Werkheiser, Phil Auerswald, Paul Rogers, (front row, left to right) Rachel Bruns, Michele Leaman (Ashoka U), and Whitney Burton

Last week we had the opportunity to celebrate with George Mason University the launch of the Mason Center for Social Entrepreneurship.  The Center has a unique conception, emerging from a cross-sector, interdisciplinary collaboration between Deans of four of Mason’s colleges as well as the Vice President of Research and Economic Development, the Ashoka U Changemaker Campus team at George Mason University, and the Phoenix Project, a not for profit corporation recognized for its groundbreaking social entrepreneurship programs by Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, the Aspen Institute, Root Cause, and others.

Kicking off with congratulatory remarks from the Center’s Inaugural Managing Director Greg Werkheiser, V.P. for Research and Economic Development Roger Stough, and University President Alan Merten, the launch celebrated George Mason’s leadership in social entrepreneurship education with strengths in research, teaching, and student engagement.  The launch also set the tone for the vision and the promise of the new center to advance entrepreneurial solutions to the world’s greatest social challenges while preparing the next generation of leaders.

To reach this vision and to further catalyze the university’s leadership in social innovation, the Mason Center for Social Entrepreneurship is integrating the various elements of existing social innovation programs of the Phoenix Project and George Mason, including its fruitful and ongoing partnership with the Changemaker Campus Consortium creating a Center that in its works is greater than the sum of its parts.
The Center’s interdisciplinary model is truly unique and provides a platform for productive collaboration with a variety of partners and stakeholders.  The Center will continue to work closely with Ashoka, the world’s largest network of social entrepreneur practitioners, to accelerate social entrepreneurship at Mason, in the Northern Virginia/Washington D.C. area, nationally, and globally.

In a recent interview, the Mason Center’s Director Greg Werkheiser spoke of the need for hybrid models to effectively advance social change:

“There are rules in politics, a defined knowledge base, and a defined structure for engagement and action. Social innovation is different: it’s more about how to be transformative in a space that has no rules or with overlapping and even sometimes conflicting rule structures.”

This kind of transformative innovation is at the heart of the vision for the Mason Center, which through a variety of approaches, curricular and extracurricular, is seeking to infuse Mason’s culture with the spirit of social entrepreneurship and innovation. Werkheiser added:

“It is imperative that we tie any subject to concrete concerns of the outside world, engaging real people and real organizations.”

Over the past few years, the Ashoka U Changemaker Campus team has helped catalyze the work of social entrepreneurship at Mason and set the standard for innovative partnerships connecting theory and practice.  These team members include Phil Auerswald, Associate Professor of Economics and a Senior Scholar at the Center, a recognized leader in the field as a co-founder and co-editor of Innovations, a quarterly academic journal that blends research and practice; Alan Abrahmson, Professor of Public and International Affairs and Senior Fellow at the Aspen Institute; Paul Rogers, Assistant Professor of English and Faculty Director of the Center, a national leader in developing techniques to use narratives of social entrepreneurship to teach writing at the undergraduate level; graduate student Michael Youngblood; and graduating student Whitney Burton who launched Mason’s Social Venture Consultancy (SVC) a student group which provides pro bono consulting services to non-profits in the greater Washington community.

The new Mason Center for Social Entrepreneurship continues to build its community and network and invites all Ashoka U blog readers to participate in the “Accelerating Social Entrepreneurship Conference” at George Mason University on September 10, 2011.

Please join us in congratulating our partner, George Mason, in the launch of the new Center and in wishing them a successful year ahead!