Tommy Tobin

Tommy is a recent graduate of Stanford University, where he earned the Deans’ Award for Academic Accomplishment and led the Stanford Project on Hunger to provide 100,000 meals for his community.

Cultivating Student Social Entrepreneurship

Originally housed primarily in business schools, social entrepreneurship courses have spread throughout the world and throughout the college and university environment. The number of universities offering courses on social entrepreneurship has increased over 700% since 2004.


I think such rapid growth is at least, in part, due to Social Entrepreneurship’s skill-building approach and its wide cross-cutting applicability.

Social Entrepreneurship Skills

Social entrepreneurship courses often ask students for applications of knowledge in addition to the core changemaking skills of empathy, team-work, and leadership. Particularly, these courses often ask two questions for students:

Can students identify a need and meet it with a novel and game-changing solution? In doing so, students exercise their creativity to arrive at innovative answers. On my campus, one department had a motto, “Caring is not enough.” That’s true and social entrepreneurship offers an avenue for direct student engagement in the issues they care about, all while promoting the public good by meeting a real need with a real solution.

Who else is working on this issue? In undertaking comparative analysis, students research real-world organizations and match them with their personal venture. Such work increases both the research and problem-solving skills of the students involved.

Innovation Award Winner J. Gregory Dees talks to a student at the Ashoka U Exchange

Cross-Disciplinary Applicability

The skills developed through social entrepreneurship education are applicable throughout the curriculum. The Ashoka U Exchange honored ten innovative teachers from multiple backgrounds, from Duke’s Fuqua School of Business to Stanford Law School to Brown’s Engineering Department. Changemaker Campuses aim to teach students that they can be change-makers, regardless of their major. Indeed, this diversity is embraced as students from a variety of disciplines are shown that whatever they are learning – whether law, business, engineering, social policy, or education – can be put to the social good through social entrepreneurship.

Social entrepreneurship courses draw together student teams with diverse skill-sets and backgrounds. Such diversity expands the knowledge base of the individual teams and allows them to think more broadly about how to put social entrepreneurship principles into practice across the campus.

Bottom Line

Social entrepreneurship education can embrace skill-development and leverage its broad applicability to cultivate a cross-campus culture of innovation where diverse teams of students are engaged in social change projects.