By Professor Dennis R. Shaughnessy
This Fall marks the 10th anniversary of the creation of the Social Enterprise Institute (SEI). I wanted to thank everyone who touched SEI in one way or another, including the hundreds of dedicated NU students and the many people we’ve met and worked side-by-side with on addressing poverty through entrepreneurship, from Africa to the Caribbean to neighboring Roxbury.
From a modest beginning of just a handful of students in a non-credit seminar, we grew our undergraduate student participation to more than 500 enrolled students each year, with 100 plus travelling to developing countries to apply what they learned in the classroom to helping solve real world problems.
While it never occurred to us to seriously measure our own growth and progress, we learned along the way that we were perhaps the largest and fastest growing undergraduate social enterprise program in the US, with the most complete course offerings. We were the only university at one time to offer both a major and minor for undergraduates in global social entrepreneurship. Today, many universities across the country and world offer social entrepreneurship and social enterprise as a field of study for undergraduates, offering what are sometimes the most popular classes on campus.
In the beginning, we were inspired by the work of one amazing student, Esther Chou. Esther had started a microfinance program in a refugee camp in Zambia, and that led to the creation of a new course on campus in global social entrepreneurship. That course, known by alums as “206” grew from an opening class of 20 to multiple sections with waiting lists each semester, and has seen nearly 2,000 students pass through the doors of Dodge and Hayden Halls. With Esther’s leadership as our first staff person, we developed unique field programs working with poor Haitian communities in the Dominican Republic, and “slum entrepreneurs” in the townships of South Africa. Along the way, we also worked in urban and rural communities in Cuba, Nicaragua, Belize, Jamaica and Costa Rica, always focused on how students could help to create change that would make the lives of poor families better, through business.
We also committed early on to community service in our neighboring communities, with our Citizen Schools middle school programs, and later with buildOn and Room to Read. Student leaders have done and continue to do amazing work in both local and global communities, especially with and for young children who weren’t blessed with the opportunities many of us have been given.
As we begin our next decade of service, we are entirely supported by students. From the SEI Speaker Series to the SEI Newsletter, from our community service programs to our international social enterprise projects and social ventures, students are quite literally at the center of all that we do at SEI.
SEI would not exist without the support of then Dean Tom Moore, who helped us find our way through the many challenges faced by what was an academic “start-up” in a largely unknown “market.” The much needed support of Professor Marc Meyer was also essential to our growth as an academic unit within the business school and across campus. I’m especially grateful to Esther Chou, Emily Turner and most recently Nina Angeles, for their staff support and program leadership. Professors Sophie Bacq and Sara Minard have been invaluable to our growth as teaching faculty. Our long-time field partners TSiBA (South Africa) and Esperanza (the DR) have helped us greatly with providing practical learning opportunities for our many students.
Finally, I’d like to thank the handful of donors that have supported our work for the past decade with their gifts. Our accomplishments are all the more notable as we have relied on small donations from friends of NU for our program capital.
We’re looking forward to the next generation of students and supporters as SEI enters its second decade, as always with humility, compassion and a firm commitment to service.