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Why Defining “Social Entrepreneurship” isn’t a Total Waste of Time

Lauren Gardner, COO

I recently read a post by a good friend and former classmate titled “Why Defining Social Entrepreneurship is a Waste of Time”.  Suneet’s point is that for the most part it doesn’t matter if you (or other people) use the term social entrepreneur – it just matters if you’re making an impact.  That summary doesn’t do his article justice and I recommend reading it in its entirety.  Although I do largely agree with Suneet I want to build on one point he didn’t touch on.

After working with the large number of undergraduate volunteers that serve here at the Emily K Center I have a theory about the importance of defining the term “social entrepreneurship”.  I agree with Suneet that once a person is being a social entrepreneur it doesn’t matter how we define it, however while we’re educating the next generation at our universities it’s very important. 

The people who are going be the future change-agents are the energetic, passionate, and driven young people with significant talent.  These are the same young people that are encouraged by parents, peers, and societal pressure to be the best doctor, lawyer or CEO and follow other traditional paths to “success”.  What does defining, teaching, and advocating for social entrepreneurship do?  It makes it a valid, noble, and prestigious way for these students to define their career path as they leave school.  It allows them to explain to their parents why they didn’t take that corporate job.  It lets them tell their peers about Wendy Kopp and how they’re going to transform their idea into a national movement like Teach for America.  It validates their decision to pursue a career and life with a mission. 

In my opinion, even if this is a little bit of the hubris Suneet talks about, it is also infusing us with a whole generation of talent willing to take a different path and in the long-run that is going to create major social change.

Triangle Gives Back – Social Networking Comes to Triangle Nonprofits

Lauren Gardner, COO

I just checked out Triangle Gives Back (the new initiative of the Triangle Community Foundation).  It’s definitely an interesting model and very powerful if they can get people to really use it. 

It is basically a social networking site for individuals who want to give there “time, talent and treasures” to organizations serving the Triangle area.  Organizations create profiles which have some general contact info and allow for easy updates of News, Events, Articles, and Opportunities.  Individuals create a profile and choose topics like “education” or “water conservation” that interest them.  Individual profiles have feeds which show updates from specific organizations that they choose to “follow” or all organizations that are tagged with their topical interests – basically giving an instant overview of what opportunities and news is occurring of interest across organizations serving the Triangle community.  

Like any networking site it’s only as strong as the momentum it gains from users.  Do you think this will have enough draw to keep people logging in?  Do you think it will be more useful as a tool to connect individuals to organizations or to connect organizations to each other? 

If you live in the Triangle it’s worth checking out and while you’re at it you might as well start following us!

VLC Presents – Beth Anderson of TFA

RYAN SCHWARTZ, Volunteer Leadership Council Chair

Monday, January 26th brought together a relatively small, but dedicated group of volunteers, staff members and friends of the EKC together to hear from a leading expert in the field of social entrepreneurship. In the first ever event hosted by the Volunteer Leadership Council (VLC), dubbed the Social Entrepreneurship Symposium, Beth Anderson and Marleah Rogers spoke eloquently about the power of individuals and their inner entrepreneur. After showing a clip from “The New Heroes” documentary in which Dr. Yunus (the Nobel Peace prize winner for his conception of microfinance) spoke about harnessing the “inner genie” that resides within us all and using it to fight for positive social change, big or small.

Beth Anderson, former VP of Foundation Relations for Teach for America, was the featured speaker and did a fantastic job of taking the lofty notion of social entrepreneurship and grounding it in her experience, as well as in the context of the work done by our volunteers at the EKC. She told a fascinating story about the founders of, the first person-to-person microfinance organization in the world, and its founders to give us some context as to how exactly these ideas are put into practice. More than that, she gave us all the feeling that we hold the power to invoke social change and it us up to us to put that power to use. Marleah further empowered us by reminding all of our guests how important the volunteer experience is to the EKC and its mission of alleviating educational inequity amongst low-income students from our community.

All in all, the event was an incredibly empowering experience and the speakers, as well as the VLC members who helped put it all together, received nothing but positive feedback. We hope that our next event will draw on a larger audience and can unlock the “inner genie” within more and more young, potential social entrepreneurs.

I want to be a Social Entrepreneur when I Grow Up

LAUREN GARDNER, Chief Operating Officer


You don’t hear a lot of elementary school kids saying they want to be social entrepreneurs when they grow up -but more and more you are hearing this desire from college students, MBA candidates, mid-career professionals and retirees.  


Of course if you asked someone to define social entrepreneurship a few years ago very few people (including me) would have been able to.  Greg Dees of the Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE) at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business defines it as:

“Social entrepreneurs play the role of change agents in the social sector, by:

• Adopting a mission to create and sustain social value (not just private value),

• Recognizing and relentlessly pursuing new opportunities to serve that mission,

• Engaging in a process of continuous innovation, adaptation, and learning,

• Acting boldly without being limited by resources currently in hand, and

• Exhibiting heightened accountability to the constituencies served and for the outcomes


As the Chief Operating Officer of the Emily K Center I get to put these characteristics to work every day and see how they are changing the lives of our students.  I also get to see a whole generation of college students engage with an organization where they see that this approach can cause real change – and they want to be a part of it.  I won’t be surprised if in a few short years, our elementary school students will list it was one of their “dream careers”.  When that day comes, here is my personal list of entrepreneurial organizations I would recommend they check out: 

  • Teach for America (TFA): An innovative model whose real power lies in its alumni network and the multiplicative effect it has had across education, business, and policy
  • Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP): An example of the TFA network in action and a powerful model that is changing the paradigm of what is possible in K-12 education
  • Grameen Bank: Nobel prize winning Muhammad Yunus shows what happens when an idea (microfinance) becomes more than about building an organization but building a movement
  • City Year: An example of the power that corporate involvement can have in increasing the impact of volunteer organizations
  • U.S. Peace Corps: The program that made me want to be social entrepreneur so it has to make this list!
Academics. Character. Leadership.

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