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.

Why next generation? We need a new generation.

As a co-director of Ashoka’s University program, I was eager to see Ashoka’s President, Diana Wells, receive the honor of Changemaker Campus George Mason University’s inaugural Social Innovation Champion Award as part of the new Mason Center for Social Entrepreneurship’s conference on “Accelerating Social Entrepreneurship in the Age of Austerity.”

But I really started to pay attention when the opening keynote Senator Mark Warner began his remarks by simultaneously thanking his hosts while quickly challenging the fast growth of social entrepreneurship programs at universities by stating that he “cannot point to any [social entrepreneurship] program [in higher education] with a successful track record, and we need to push academic communities to add value to this sector.”

Given that Ashoka U partners with colleges and universities globally seeking to add value to both the academic and practical fields of social entrepreneurship, I had high hopes for what I might learn over the course of the day. What value can be created by educating the next generation of social entrepreneurs and changemakers? What role can higher education play in a rapidly changing world with increasing social and environmental challenges?

And I would not be disappointed by the thought provoking discussions held throughout the day. The opening discussion between Senator Warner and Bill Shore from Share our Strength pointed out the necessary connection between social entrepreneurship and policy for scale. Although Saul Garlick, CEO of ThinkImpact, in the NextGen Education breakout panel pointed to the serious gap in understanding and connection between government and the social entrepreneurship world, he rightly noted that bridging this gap requires a clear definition of social entrepreneurship, but that the academic work is nascent. Yet another call for academics to rise to the challenge.

Another theme that would ring true throughout the day was a call for more rigorous measurement. Especially in an age of austerity, funding needs to go to programs that work. During the lunch keynote, Mario Morino, co-founder and chairman of Venture Philanthropy Partners and chairman of the Morino Institute, presented his new book, “Leap of Reason: Managing to Outcomes in an Era of Scarcity.” Ashoka President Diana Wells was recognized during the same luncheon for her field leadership, including designing and implementing Ashoka’s first Measuring Effectiveness initiative that has a methodology to better understand the changes social entrepreneurs are making in society.

Measurement can help institutions to become more self-aware and proactive. In this “sweep of human history,” as Marino called it, given the debt and deficit crisis, a lot of disruption is going to happen which can lead to a lot of opportunity. Morino specifically called on higher education to reinvent itself by accepting fiduciary responsibilities brought to light through measurement, while embracing an entrepreneurial spirit. Rather than “sitting on the titanic while the iceberg comes towards you,” Morino advises colleges and universities to consult with their students and faculty today about how to transform their institutions to prepare for the challenges of tomorrow.

This hopeful message about the potential of entrepreneurial transformation of higher education to benefit society continued in the post-lunch break-out session on “The Coming Prosperity,” a title that shares the name of Professor Phil Auerswald’s forthcoming book. Co-presenter, successful entrepreneur Muslim Lakhani, from ML Resources, encouraged his audience to embrace an entrepreneurial attitude to “wake up, try, fail, and try again, and then there will be more possibility for the future.” Muslim pointed to the Arab Spring as an example that today’s moment is not necessarily all about democracy building, but increasingly economic opportunity and prosperity. Hope in the form of dignity, livelihood, and opportunity, Muslim touted, is imperative to secure the future, “not for the next generation, but for a new generation.”

Diana Wells from Ashoka then returned to close the day as the moderator of the plenary discussion on “Job Creation, Recovery, and the Role of Social Entrepreneurs,” joined by Paul Carttar with the Social Innovation Fund from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and Terry McAuliffe, campaign advisor for both Bill and Hillary Clinton, and co-founder and Chairman of GreenTech Automotive.

The panel kicked off by asking how social entrepreneurship can help with the job crisis. Paul Carttar from CNCS challenged us once again to start with the definition of a social entrepreneur. As a for-profit business entrepreneur, Terry McAuliffe defined social entrepreneurship as “trying to make the world a little better for other people” and explained his approach to “turbo charge” jobs and economic activity by buying China’s biggest electric car company and bringing it to America. Paul followed Terry’s lead by trying to address the nuance in the definition of social entrepreneurship by stating:

“I am less inclined to think about social entrepreneurs as individuals who found non-profit organizations, but rather as individuals who catalyze activities that create social value. The most important thing that a social entrepreneur can do is to come up with great ideas for legitimate needs that are not otherwise being satisfied by the status quo and to drive the creation of an organizational structure that is effective at creating value in a sustainable way. As a result, social entrepreneurs will contribute significantly to job creation and the well-being of our society.”

At the end of the day, I was left with several new insights and a call to action:

Insights: (a) Policy changes can help create a more conducive environment for socially beneficial for-profit businesses, in addition to scaling non-profit solutions to social problems; (b) Measuring impact is critical to make an effective link with government by gathering evidence to make the case for new policies and to scale programs that work; (c) Finally, we do ourselves a disservice by limiting the definition of social entrepreneurship as a non-profit phenomenon (and it was an insight that some people still do!) because this offers a reductionist view on what is possible. As Paul Carttar explains:

“It is great to hope that social entrepreneurship can be a huge factor for the jobs of the future, but this is only energizing with an expansive definition of social entrepreneurship. If we take a traditional view, then I would say that this is a very unfortunate indicator if non-profits are driving the jobs of the future. Wealth is created by the private sector. The best news that anyone engaged in the non-profit sector can get is that we have a rapidly growing economy. It reduces the number of people falling through the cracks. It also generates wealth that through philanthropy is deployable to the non-profit sector to support those who need it the most.”

So what is my call to action? I plan to work harder than ever to both measure and communicate the results of the Ashoka Changemaker Campuses. We can leverage this “sweep in human history” to set forth a powerful transformation in higher education to provide Senator Warner, and more importantly the next generation, with increasingly more colleges and universities that offer high impact social entrepreneurship education.

Academia can help clarify the definition of social entrepreneurship by engaging more students, both academically and experientially, with new models of social innovation. Professors can also develop more rigorous assessment tools to support practitioners, in addition to training students in new techniques. What is clear is that higher education has much to offer. But it cannot only be a progression from the past. We must leapfrog into the future by meeting the needs a new generation of students by helping them identify problems and create innovative, sustainable, measurable, and scalable solutions.