Every conversation I have about social entrepreneurship is the most important conversation I have ever had. With the movement poised for exponential growth and with all stakeholders choosing proactively to take a seat at the table, conversations in this space tend to flow in one of two directions. The first is - what are you doing that is changing the world? And the second is - how can I help? Such was the atmosphere for a most auspicious lunch with yours truly (Auren Kaplan, Director of Social Media for Hub LA), Alexandra Montoya, and Scott Sherman of the Transformative Action Institute.
Why are these conversations so important? Because collaboration is an inevitable result. Knowledge sharing and capacity sharing is an inevitable result. And perhaps most importantly (the authors of Rework would certainly agree) - we leave feeling inspired and galvanized for action.
The initial impetus for our meeting was based on Alexandra's desire to bring Scott's Transformative Action Institute to Los Angeles. As an aspiring social entrepreneur seeking to end third world child imprisonment in Rwanda, Ms. Montoya works from a place of passion and inner strength - but she brings, in addition to an authentic desire to truly lend a helping hand to social entrepreneurship at large (and The Hub in particular!), tremendous organizing capacity and a mind tuned to facilitating further change.
When the word came out that in fact Transformative Action Institute would be partnering with StartingBloc to bring the Institute to Los Angeles in August, our discussion then flowed to a need within the social enterprise community to bring social entrepreneurs of all ages into the for-profit social change community that is burgeoning here in Los Angeles. And Ms. Montoya will be partnering with some major social enterprise players (to be named publicly soon) to help assist to that end. The Hub LA will obviously be partner to that movement as well.
Most exciting was our talk about the incredible growth and success of Scott's Transformative Action Institute. The Institute began as a course at UCLA to engage the brightest college students there about social entrepreneurship - and how to use it to change the world. The Institute has since found home at more than 20 of the nation’s top universities, including Yale and Cornell. I was sold on the idea once I heard the first question that Scott asks his students when they enter the class - "If you were a billionaire, what would you do to change the world?" The thought has not left my mind, and I admire it because it gives the students space to think with the full force of their imaginations and creative gifts. The result? His course became wildly popular - of 80 students who applied to take it at Yale, only 17 were admitted.
But Scott's plans for expansion are manifold and incredibly exciting for the movement. Set aside that alums of his Transformative Action Institute have gone on to found dynastic social enterprises from The Unreasonable Institute to Echoing Green winner Mark Arnoldy's Nepal NUTrition feeding thousands of hungry Nepalese with fortified peanut butter. Set aside even (but only for a moment) Scott's plan to bring the Transformative Action Institute to undergraduate students from more than 200 universities across the country (including the alma mater Scott and I share, the University of Michigan).
Scott is intending to tap into the resounding air of transformation his institute has applied, and turn it into a sustainable program for rebuilding America. He calls this venture Transform America, but don't look now, because Transform Uganda has already been founded. Why is this so important? We know that Ashoka is the global leader in social entrepreneurship, with thousands of fellows across the globe who are beyond impressive. We know that Urban Social Entrepreneurs aims to do for the urban community what Ashoka has done for social entrepreneurship around the world. But the point is that Ashoka needs peers - and it needs peers at the level of institutions. Scott's Transform America will be a peer to Ashoka in mobilizing and empowering a new generation of social entrepreneurs for the United States.
What does Ashoka think about Scott’s Transformative Action Institute? They liked it so much they incorporated Scott’s curriculum into their Ashoka Changemakers Campus initiative. Why? As Erin Krampetz of Ashoka U says,
“Too few college students get the opportunity to reflect on what is most deeply meaningful to them - the purpose of their lives, their ability to make a difference in the lives of others, and how they can live their lives according to their values. Even if they do explore these questions, they rarely get the training or tools that would help them act on their ambitions...
“The experiential, hands-on learning aspect of the course has enabled students to creatively and collaboratively pursue new ideas to achieve social change and to persevere in the face of obstacles - both critical skills for future social entrepreneurs and changemakers. Even more powerfully, the course has resulted in a global network of professors, practitioners, and students whose impact will continue to compound well into the future.”
Scott’s Transformative Action curriculum has also gotten the attention of scholars from institutions as hallowed as the Carnegie Foundation. Says, Tom Ehrlich, Senior Scholar at Carnegie, "Scott's got both a track record and an organization designed to grow social entrepreneurship teaching and learning with attention to quality as well as quantity." It is humbling to have lunch with such a changemaker in the social entrepreneurship community; what leaves me most excited is the knowledge that his position as unofficial “chief empowerer” of future social entrepreneurs has only just begun, and is poised for even more exponential growth.
We left the conversation with word that a friend of Scott's, Randy Parraz, is running as a Democratic candidate for Senate for the state of Arizona. Having a friend to social entrepreneurship in the halls of the Senate is an obvious no-brainer for the movement. Why is politics important? Because federal government recognition of this movement endorses it at a scale previously unimaginable. Maryland has formalized Benefit Corporations as a legal business structure. And we've already written about the exciting possibilities of the government funding innovative non-profits. But we need our politics and our legal structures to reflect the changes to the national business climate that social enterprise is bringing about. We need L3Cs and Benefit Corporations to be recognized not just in Maryland but in Congress - as federal law. And we need the federal government funding for-profit social enterprises just like the government funds innovation in energy research. Social entrepreneurship is at the forefront of changing this country, and this world, in ways that make sense to most people. So yes - we need all stakeholders at the table.
To what extent do you think the federal government should support social entrepreneurs?
This post was originally posted on HUB LA, it was reposted with permission.