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Social Enterprise Corps

SEC.jpgThere has been a tidal wave of excitement regarding social enterprise in recent years. Magazines sing the praises of social entrepreneurs. Amazon is crammed with the latest missives on how to save the planet. It seems that almost everywhere you look, people want to be changing the world.

However, admittedly, when I graduated from business school seven years ago, my first priority was to be sure that I could make the payments on my massive student loans. After several years at a start-up company, I eventually did enter the world of social entrepreneurship. But what if you could create a program that might encourage top graduates to tap their newly minted skills and pursue their passion for creating social good through non-profit and perhaps even for-profit business endeavors?

Consider organizations such as the Peace Corps, the Corporation for National Service, and Teach for America (TFA). These groups leverage some of the most capable young people in the United States and deploy them to perform a range of noble activities, such as building homes, providing social services and teaching young people in some of the most neglected classrooms in our country. In turn for this commitment, the participants receive support through financial instruments like college loan relief, low-interest loans, and stipends.

No one joins TFA to get rich. Far from it. But the non-profit program offers a transformative opportunity for personal growth and community investment. Interestingly, even in a very hot job market, students respond to this challenge. TFA has become highly selective to the point that, due to the overwhelming demand, last year, 80% of applicants were turned down. Some TFA graduates continue to teach as a long-term profession, others go on to launch charter schools, and most pursue other careers beyond education. Regardless, for those two years, these young people and their peers in other organizations such as Americorps and the Peace Corps strengthen our civil society and create long-term promise for America at home and around the world.

So why not a Social Enterprise Corps (SEC)?

Imagine an institution supported by the government and organized to train motivated young people in the science of business plans, for-profit and non-profit management, organizational dynamics, marketing, etc. Candidates could be screened on basis of their business plans and selected after a battery of interviews, the perfect acid test to locate the true entrepreneurs with the potential to realize their vision.

Some might cast these functions as the role of business school or perhaps beyond the domain of instruction. You don’t teach entrepreneurship is a mantra we've heard repeatedly. Nonetheless, the purpose would be to assist young people who want to create social good but are inhibited from doing so by the financial constraints imposed by the high cost of college tuition. Once admitted, students could be given access to low interest loans and perhaps relief on their student loan payments in exchange for a commitment to spend 2-3 years bringing their ideas to fruition.

Clearly many SEC ventures might fail – most small businesses don’t clear the hurdle of year one – but you could increase the odds by creating a SCORE-style advisory board to counsel the cadre of young social entrepreneurs. It’s hard to imagine a more exciting exercise than channeling the motivation and passion of college graduates toward the development of businesses and non-profits that might tackle some of our most pressing societal challenges, creating jobs and enabling hope along the way.

Such a concept would face spirited opposition and considerable skepticism – does the federal government have excess funds for this type of venture? Perhaps the White House would be better suited to jawbone a consortium of F100 firms to pool together resources to enable such a program? Could you create a role for long-standing social enterprise engines like City Year, or Ashoka, that have done pioneering work in this field? Would the SEC earn an equity position for its initial financial support if ventures proved to be financial successes? How would you manage the transition of young entrepreneurs out of the fledgling ventures after the required 2-3 initial time commitment or should you simply discontinue the financial relief at that point?

Indeed, these are big questions, but we didn’t get the moon by thinking small. If we want to reinforce the shared faith in our country and to rebuild our reputation at home and around the world, why not tap the intrinsic capabilities of our most valuable resource, our young people? If nothing else, it could be a great topic to kick around in Aspen next summer…

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Bill Gate et al. have a lot of money. And few would be more attune to entrepreneurship then them.

I think the demand from graduates is also there. While getting the ends meet has a high priority, the desire to seek a meaningful career is also non-trivial.

Posted by: Wai Yip Tung on 28 Jul 06

The question of course is: why do these people refuse to tackle structural issues?

Also: a man like Soros first killed several million people with his speculative terror in Asia, and then hands out billions to "charity".

In short, what the worldchanging article describes are "liberal communists".

Learn why they are the ultimate enemy of all worldchangers and progressive forces. Read all about them, here:

Nobody has to be vile

Posted by: Lorenzo on 28 Jul 06

Yes, a SECorps could work. Not only might it sign up new graduates, but like the Peace Corps, it could also take experienced mid-career people. See my further comments at Social Enterprise Corps: Comments on Jonathan Greenblatt's Proposal.

Posted by: Rob Johnston on 28 Jul 06

Rob, thanks for echoing Jonathan's call for an SE Corps. I've posted a news link to your 4Nonprofits comments on his proposal from the Social Enterprise Reporter website at I think it's a great idea too and have been in touch with Ira Okun, a trainer for the National Association of Service and Conservation Corps who's helped them develop entrepreneurial ventures. In his experience there were inherent problems with the Corps' social purpose biz ventures: lack of financial risk capital and entrepreneurial leaders who stay the course. These are challenges that I'm hoping SEReporter can help with!

Posted by: Tom White on 31 Jul 06

Kevin Bao, with whom I've had the wonderful privilege of working on Eonfire, the network for emerging social entrepreneurs, had a similar idea, with a small twist: get 'em while they're in college. Our plan (and I apologize for the shameless plug, but we're launching about 10 campus chapters next month, and it's incredibly exciting) is to encourage undergraduates both to address local issues through social enterprise and to team up with students at other schools to develop enterprises to tackle larger problems.

Anyway, please feel free to check out the concept (we'll be uploading updated site content soon) and shoot me your comments, ideas, and so on. I think Eonfire can do something about addressing this need in the next year or three.

Posted by: Six on 6 Aug 06

I was a Fellow of StartingBloc and just finished an internship in there office this past summer. StartingBloc is called a "a training corps for young changemakers" by Fast Company. The organization is growing rapidly and is partnered with many of the foremost institutions in social enterprise (Ashoka, Rudolf Steiner Foundation). Rather than reinvent the wheel, it might make sense to figure out how we can invest to take this organization to scale. See article below:

Posted by: John Timothy on 6 Aug 06



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