Social Entrepreneurship a Higher Calling: The role of the pluralist

By Cecilia McInnis-Bowers, Professor
Rollins College

An academic conference where leading edge research is presented and discussed by faculty from across the globe can be thought provoking. This was certainly the case for me as I attended the 12th Annual Social Entrepreneurship Conference, sponsored by NYU Stern and Northeastern D’Amore-McKim Schools of Business.

I attended the conference, with Denise Parris, to present the paper Business Not as Unusual: Developing the Next Generation of Socially Conscious Practitioners. Our paper, captured the work of six Rollins faculty members who designed the curricula in Social Entrepreneurship & Business and Responsible Business Management. We described our model of the pillars of socially conscious business education and the unique foundational course that supports two socially conscious business majors, Social Entrepreneurship & Business and responsible Business Management.

The most thought provoking “aha!” resulted from listening to Maryna Besharov discuss her research on the double roles that leaders of social enterprises must navigate, profit and purpose. She coined the term “pluralist” and I realized that this new vocabulary described perfectly the mindsets and skillsets that were intentionally embedded into Rollins’ Social Entrepreneurship & Business major.  Capturing this field research for the classroom, informs theory and contributes to preparing students to become able change-makers through a current and vibrant academic program.

              Since returning from the conference, I have used Dr. Besharov’s term in contextualizing the higher calling of social entrepreneurship and students get it. Although the change-maker space is a wide continuum of personal and organizational opportunities for making social impact, the main focus of the Social Entrepreneurship & Business major is creating social value by using the problem-solving lens and integrative approach afforded by a business-sustainability mindset and skillset. The root operative concept being, sustainable.  Embracing the moment-of-obligation to do good, while focusing on how the social impact will be sustained  over time,  ensures that  a real possibility of  wide scale, enduring, impact is achievable.  Thus, the pluralist mindset and skillset is required.

               According to Besharov’s field research, the most successful leaders of social enterprises are those that can balance the social mission, the reason for being, with creating and sustaining the economic engine that funds the organization. We have known this intuitively and taught accordingly, but this field research has demonstrated the consequences to a social mission of the organization when the leadership skills are tilted in either direction, social mission vs. sustained economic engine. The compelling case examples give students a window into the challenges of social entrepreneurship and how valuable their preparation at Rollins is for enabling them to take on such challenges.

              In the U.S., the organizational structure that describes managing to both a social impact- mission and sustained-profit is called, hybrid model.  Her research demonstrates that when the values of leadership tilt toward the social-mission, inefficacies arise within the operational and marketing side. This form of inefficacy leads to increases in operational costs and loss of market power for the product/service that was the vehicle of the economic engine. The reverse occurs when the values of leadership tilt toward the social mission. The morale of those working within the organization suffers for feeling as if the bottom-line takes precedence over the mission, the reason they are there. Loss of morale begins a cascade of operational inefficiencies.  Ideological conflict over which is more important, mission or purpose, is destructive to both.

              The role we as teachers play in teaching towards a pluralist mindset is critical for the success of social enterprises that our students will create or lead in their future. Besharov found that values are critical: If they …”value both social and commercial goals, they can mitigate tensions between members who value just one or the other of these goals, ” thus ensuring the operational and marketing efficiencies needed for a sustainable-ongoing enterprise that fulfills its social impact mission.

              We as an academic community are preparing responsible leaders and global citizens. The social entrepreneurship major channels that mission directly into being informed of the wicked, sticky, problems facing marginalized peoples, e.g. indigenous rights, gender inequities in education,  etc., as well as challenges effecting the globe,  e.g. global warming, extinction of species from the natural environment, etc.  Reflecting on the pluralist dichotomy as a model, it applies to the structure and intent of the social entrepreneurship major. Through business, students learn problem solving and decision-making; interdependencies of the functional areas (entrepreneurial marketing, leadership & organizational behavior, entrepreneurial finance, etc.), entrepreneurial thinking & action; and collaborative innovation (Human Centered Design Thinking). These mindsets and skillsets fuel creative solutions and their successful and sustainable implementation.  Through the impact tracks that students knit together according to their passion for issues and areas of social context problems, they become informed agents of social mission and purpose. Thus a curriculum delivering preparation of the future pluralists.

              Social entrepreneurship is a higher calling. Understood in the academic context, it requires a substantively larger body of content to prepare students, requires students to gain a broad array of inter-cultural skills through international experience and insight into marginalized settings through immersions. Understood as a an applied field, social entrepreneurship leading to social enterprise creation, leadership and management, requires pluralist values and skills, for the never-ending balancing act to ensure sustained achievement of the social impact mission.

              I respect and appreciate the opportunity to have co-created the Social Entrepreneurship major and to now teach with colleagues across all of Rollins to prepare students for the higher calling of the pluralist mindset and skillset needed by future social entrepreneurs.






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