So, you want to change the world?

In recent years, the rise of social entrepreneurship has taken the world by storm. Arts Student Ambassador, Cameron Lee, explores the world of social entrepreneurship and the minor program offered at McGill.

Let’s face it: the world isn’t perfect. At some point, we have all been frustrated at the faulty, seemingly entrenched systems of our global institutions and have questioned their inability to address the pervasive social ills afflicting billions of people worldwide each day. In recent years, the rise of social entrepreneurship has taken the world by storm; and now change seems more feasible than ever. Where inefficient governance has failed to provide meaningful value for society’s citizens, social entrepreneurs have begun to marry traditional capitalism with ethical societal impact. Seeking to provide long-term solutions for social ills across all sectors, innovative minds are drawn to the field of social entrepreneurship now more than ever, and we are on the brink of a revolutionary change.

What is social entrepreneurship?

With my background in International Development Studies, the concept of social entrepreneurship had always been foreign to me. However, after taking McGill’s Social Entrepreneurship minor program for the past two years, I have come to understand the immense potential behind this field and the value it can provide to our world today. So, are you wondering how you can have a tangible impact on the world? Let’s start with the avenue that is available to you at this moment: becoming a social entrepreneur.

You may have heard that a traditional entrepreneur’s objective is to create value in a way that satisfies a need in a target market, while at the same time disrupting existing systems through innovative products or services. Such descriptions apply to entrepreneurs in all fields. Social entrepreneurship differs from traditional entrepreneurship in its value proposition. Rather than being solely driven to maximize financial profit, the focus of a social entrepreneur is on creating social value. Martin and Osberg’s article “Social Entrepreneurship: The Case for Definition” states that social entrepreneurs often work to provide value for a marginalized or excluded group of society that would otherwise lack the financial means or political clout to achieve transformative benefits on their own. They creatively destruct current economies and social systems to address the root causes of social issues.

A classic example of a social entrepreneur is Muhammud Yunus, a Bangladeshi entrepreneur who founded and spearheaded the microfinance movement within developing nations. After recognizing an inherently unjust and unsatisfactory equilibrium in his community, Yunus created a way to provide families with the means to take control over their own livelihood through the distribution of microcredit. Yunus’s social business has brought about beneficial change by disrupting an existing market equilibrium and identifying a previously isolated customer segment, ultimately creating value for the marginalized group of poor Bangladeshi families.

Your role in changing the world

How does one become a Muhammud Yunus? As someone who was constantly searching for a way to become a vehicle of social change, the first step I took was applying for the Minor in Social Entrepreneurship offered here at McGill. In merging the social sciences with management techniques, this minor provides students with “the skills necessary to take on issues of social responsibility, environmental sustainability, and the know-how to develop products and services that can alleviate social problems”. It is perfect for students who wish to pursue careers in Non-governmental organizations, develop policies for government agencies, or simply for those wanting to explore the diverse world of entrepreneurship. It teaches students that business can be compatible with social change, and that the two working together can have an enormous impact in sustainably targeting the root causes of pervasive social ills. A classmate, Katia Hardgrave, explains that this minor has “allowed non-Desautels students such as herself to take classes in management that are specific to entrepreneurship. More specifically, it has given her skills that she can apply later in life.”

Available exclusively to Arts students who wish to extend their studies into the management faculty, this minor teaches students to blend their knowledge of the social sciences with the practical applications of management techniques.

I have also had the opportunity to discuss the current social climate with renowned professors that have a plethora of knowledge on the topic of social entrepreneurship. I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Margaret Graham, a now-retired professor of McGill University and a founding director of the Winthrop Group Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In our discussion, Dr. Graham emphasized the importance of the Social, Governance, and Environment criteria used to measure the ethical and sustainable impact of a business. She advised that as a social entrepreneur, "It is extremely important to ground yourself in… paying attention to the ESG aspects of any business enterprise. These aspects of management are critical to long-term business success,” and can ensure that company decisions are made upon the basis of social well-being.

Dr. Steve Maguire, Professor of Strategy & Organization in the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, has created and is currently teaching his own Management Policy course “Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation”. He also provides his personal advice for young entrepreneurs hoping to start their own social ventures. His advice is a sharp reminder that in order to find a solution, it is first necessary to grasp the depth and context of the problem.

“My advice is to develop expertise and social networks related to the social issue or problem you wish to solve by immersing yourself in the community to be served as well as the network of individuals and organizations already engaged in serving that community... It is perhaps cliché but the following expression applies: it is better to fall in love with a problem than with a solution.”

Although the minor in social entrepreneurship has been a valuable experience for me to better understand how I can be a vehicle of change, I have learned that this is by no means the only way to enter the world of social entrepreneurship. There are countless resources here at Dobson Cup trophy McGill available for all students interested in becoming a social entrepreneur. For example, the annual Dobson Cup is a competition for McGill affiliated start-up companies run by students across all faculties, competing for a chance to win $100,000 in seed funding for their social venture. The competition is open to anyone who has a great idea but does not have the means to make it a reality. Deadline for the applications is January 16, 2019. For those of you looking to simply add to your experience in the area, student club faculties such as Enactus McGill may be a great place to start. Enactus is “a student-driven social entrepreneurship organization incubating and developing social programs and enterprises,” with the mission to develop agents of long-term change in students with entrepreneurial spirits.

A world of opportunity

Outside of McGill also lies countless opportunities for starting your future as a social entrepreneur. Impact Hub Montreal, is a network organization that provides all-inclusive support for new social venture start-ups that require a workspace and community support in order to gain traction for their activities. Similar to Impact Hub, Montreal based organization Esplanade offers a collaborative space connecting entrepreneurial spirits and providing them with the necessary means to succeed. For those of you that seek to have a hands-on learning experience, it may be worth considering volunteering or participating in either of these organizations. After all, experience is the accelerator to action.

It is all too easy to believe that our individual actions have little to no impact on the world around us, let alone have the ability to change the world at large. However, individuals driven by passion and determination have proven time and again that change is possible when our actions gain momentum. I believe that every single one of us is changing the world little by little each day. Opportunities exist everywhere. They can be discovered and created, and are continuously shifting forms. Take time to be inspired, to immerse yourself in your communities and to learn where your help is truly needed. The next time you feel frustrated at the world’s faulty systems or feel disillusioned by the countless social ills afflicting our global neighbors, you may find that turning to social entrepreneurship will provide you with the solutions our world has been needing all along.