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.

Strength in Numbers – The Importance of Campus Allies

Undergraduate and graduate students have proven to be key drivers in bringing social entrepreneurship to their campus. Yet many students feel that they are not equipped with the skills to best navigate what appears to be such a daunting challenge. However, without even realizing it, you are surrounded by a knowledgeable and often untapped resource: faculty. Jeff Snell, faculty champion at Changemaker Campus Marquette University, recommends seeking out the “faculty-champion yeast in the academic-community loaf.” It is important to think strategically while searching for the best faculty champion; once this person is identified, you will have a powerful advocate who can:

  1. Catalyze the growth of changemaking on campus,
  2. Advocate for institutional change, and
  3. Garner the respect of their academic peers.

Know Your Audience

It will be to your advantage to think carefully and thoroughly about what will resonate on your campus.  Does the language you are using have a “chilling effect?” For example, perhaps it might be more productive to frame social entrepreneurship, which can often be a polarizing term, as social innovation instead. Furthermore, how can you frame social entrepreneurship within the mission of your institution?  At Marquette, a Catholic, Jesuit institution that uses the tag “Be the Difference” and embraces a concern for social justice, there are obvious ties to social entrepreneurship’s attack on root causes of social problems, impacting marginalized populations.  It is also important to capture the zeitgeist of recent campus events and initiatives within the concepts of social entrepreneurship.  Take for example, Marquette’s first social entrepreneur in residence, Jane Leu, founder of Upwardly Global, which serves to place educated immigrants in appropriate jobs in the United States.  Ms. Leu visited campus in the fall of 2009 at the height of the Congressional focus on immigration reform and due to the relevant nature of Upwardly Global, Marquette was able to garner widespread support for social entrepreneurship not only with other students, but with faculty and university administration as well.

Of course, the more preparation you do, the better off you’re likely to be. This holds especially true if you can demonstrate that social entrepreneurship makes sense for your campus and makes sense for your interlocutor, be it a faculty member, an administrator, or a fellow student.  As a student, you should expect some healthy skepticism as faculty are trained to think critically. To illustrate the proof of concept to your audience, talk about the developments at other institutions. The Changemaker Campuses are exemplars of what happens when campus stakeholders hold up social entrepreneurship as a shared value.

Bottom Line

Be clear and demonstrate the value of social entrepreneurship to your campus and to your hoped-for faculty champion. Finding the right mentor can be a key ally in catalyzing your institution towards changemaking.