The 11th Annual Social Entrepreneurship Conference took place at Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business on November 5, 6 and 7. Over the course of two and a half days, 110 researchers from more than 20 countries around the world presented and discussed their latest research on a variety of topics that included strategies for creation and exit, innovative business models such as the Benefit Corporation, psychological attitudes of social entrepreneurs, to name a few. To quote Dr. Jill Kickul, Director of Programs in Social Entrepreneurship at New York University Stern School of Business and Conference Co-Director, “our conference has something for everyone.”

First, the conference was an opportunity for researchers from many different disciplines to advance research on social entrepreneurship. Through thought-provoking papers, high-quality discussions, and outstanding keynote speeches, burning questions were addressed, such as: How to measure social impact? Should all organizations be hybrid organizations? Are we witnessing the emergence of hybrid fields? What are the challenges and the opportunities to advance social entrepreneurship research?

Second, the conference was an opportunity to connect with like-minded scholars. With more time left for networking and exchange of ideas, one can really feel the growing sense of community. Coffee breaks were lively and Q&A were marked by intense discussions. Our Best Paper Award reception at The Top of The Hub in the Prudential Tower was a festive celebration. The conference was also the opportunity for many participants to discover a new venue, Northeastern University’s campus in the heart of Boston. The local social entrepreneurship research community also gathered in great numbers with scholars from Boston College, Boston University, Harvard University, U Mass and more.

Third, in addition to opportunities that a conference typically offers, The 11th Annual Social Entrepreneurship Conference was a unique opportunity for students to interact with faculty and explore the research dimension of a phenomenon that they usually study in the classroom or in the field. In total, 20 student ambassadors from the Social Enterprise Institute contributed greatly to the conference, and more than 50 students attended at least one session.

Ruthie Leifer, one of our student ambassadors, reflects on her experience: “Attending The 11th Annual Social Entrepreneurship Conference at Northeastern this year was an amazing opportunity. Getting to hear from some of the leading academics about social entrepreneurship really helped to round out my education at Northeastern. Having already been on co-op (six-month long, paid internships that are an integral part of Northeastern students’ education) and worked at a social enterprise it was very interesting to get an opportunity to see the academic side of the field. I learned a lot from the different keynote speakers and presentations that I attended and hope to put to use at my next co-op. Having attended the conference I feel more prepared to begin my own career in the field of social entrepreneurship.”

Social entrepreneurship education, which is the raison d’être of the Social Enterprise Institute, was also the focus of two panels. The first questioned the impact of social venture competitions and how to measure their effects on student learning. The second addressed the role of experiential learning, a pillar of Northeastern’s education principles, in social entrepreneurship and how it can lead to various positive outcomes, including the creation of new social ventures.

In all, the 11th Annual Social Entrepreneurship Conference was the chance to advance social entrepreneurship research, community building, and teaching. One could wonder what is next? If you ask me, there are many more opportunities to come for those of us motivated to advance the field. Research on social entrepreneurship stands at an interesting crossroad right now with research streams that are strengthening every year that passes, such as the institutional theory and identity theory research streams, whereas new key questions keep emerging. For instance, we still know very little about mission survival when a social entrepreneur leaves an organization. Questions on the ethics and morality of social entrepreneurship endeavors remain unaddressed. Important steps still need to be taken to fully understand the roles of finance, technology and law and the mechanisms that lead to high-impact social enterprises. Our community of social entrepreneurship scholars is getting larger and more impactful every year. The next step probably lies in having more members join us from Africa, Asia, Europe and South America. Teaching social entrepreneurship will become richer and richer as our research brings converging trends on what makes high-performing social enterprises in various contexts and as our students get more and more chances to interact with practitioners and bring their experiences back in the classroom.

These three elements—research, community and teaching—are the cornerstones of the social entrepreneurship ecosystem, the one that supports and improves the practice of social entrepreneurship. How? Rigorous and relevant research will bring responses to practice. A strong, multi-perspective community will make room for discussion and foster exchange. Empowering and inspirational teaching will bring the next generation of leaders and thinkers that successful social enterprises need. Drawing on these three elements, along with sound and informed practice, we will help address our ultimate goal: serving the two billion humans who live in poverty and the many social and environmental issues that affect them.

If you missed all the fun, want to join the continuing discussion and our amazing group of scholars, mark your calendar: the 12th Annual Social Entrepreneurship Conference will take place on November 4-6, 2015, at NYU Stern in New York City. See you there!

Photo by Northeastern News

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