After delving a bit into the concept of social entrepreneurship, I have learned one mesmerising fact: it makes the world bigger and smaller at the same time.
Otherwise, how can it be explained that we almost live in a world of 10 billion, and at the same time, I randomly met at one of my sessions here in Sheffield with an old-high-school friend from Romania, who is now living in Latvia? She came here on an Erasmus+ programme that was focused on tackling the concept of social entrepreneurship. I just happened to be delivering one of the sessions. However, if I had not been involved with the University of Sheffield Enterprise, and if I had never gained any interest in social entrepreneurship, I probably would never have met her so randomly and excitingly.
The world is big, big enough to hold on its shoulders so many problems that all the joint efforts of NGOs and activists and countries cannot end them. But this growing desire to make a contribution to the world, this luring fantasy that you were born to change something, this inner voice that tells you YOU were meant to do something great – all of these are bringing people together under the umbrella of social entrepreneurship. This is basically a business/enterprise whose profits, products or part of both are oriented towards social causes. Take for instance, our very own ENACTUS, a student-run company that runs projects such as Hope jewellery or Homemade jams, which aim to support and empower victims of sex trafficking and homeless people respectively, by offering them the training to create those products and the platform to become financially sustainable. Another student-run organisation that works with USE is AIESEC Sheffield, a leadership and cultural exchange platform for students worldwide.
I have run two sessions on social entrepreneurship, one for an outreach project that targeted STEM students and another one for Erasmus+ ,where I met my friend. I will not go into the details of each session, but maybe what is worth mentioning is that I used an exercise called 2 nouns and 1 verb, with reference to the United Nations Global Goals (see picture below). So, how the exercise works is: I create random pairs of nouns and verbs such as “book, map, to read”, “forrest, lamp, to clean” or “glacier, shovel, to distinguish” (these are real examples used in the session), then I show the students the Global Goals – a set of 17 goals recently adopted by the UN in 2015 that aim to tackle social causes around the world. I then ask the students to think of a business idea starting from their two nouns and a verb, BUT that can also be linked with at least one of the Global Goals. This means they have to envision and pitch a social entrepreneurship idea.
Both sessions were a success. The reason? Maybe because the Global Goals are real, tangible worldwide political aims people can relate to. Or maybe they enjoyed the approach of a game with 2 nouns and 1 verb, but, most probably, the main reason was that inner impulse that they can think of something that can change the world. I really hope that I got across the message that they are right, their impulse, guts, feelings, heart, voice, whatever is right. They can change the world and they will do it.
Choosing the path of enterprising ideas aimed at social goals is a way to do it, among others. Of course it is a better, selfless, truly noble path, if you actually want to change something, and I hope that both groups of students understood that social entrepreneurship is not a strategy to make your company have a better profile, even though it can be wrongfully used as such, but is is instead a path, a choice, a sort of ‘lifestyle’. Some people decide to become vegetarians, or even vegan. Some decide to become social entrepreneurs. Other decide to do both or none. In any case, it is a lifestyle. What kind do you want to live?
I’ll leave you with a small taster video from the Erasmus+ session.