The Social Impact & Sustainability Initiative at UF’s Entrepreneurship & Innovation Center creates opportunities for students to learn how to become changemakers, challenging them to develop skills and strategies of successful business leaders who innovatively and sustainably solve social, environmental, and economic problems. We empower students to become social entrepreneurs who leverage the power of business to positively impact their local communities and the world.
In spring 2005, UF became one of the first major research universities to offer a course in Social Entrepreneurship. At the time, only a handful of schools including Stanford, Berkeley, Duke, NYU, Harvard, Columbia, and Oxford had programs in Social Entrepreneurship.
In our first calendar year, a total of 73 students in three Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship courses spent over 1,860 hours helping more than 20 ventures in the local community be more innovative, impactful, and sustainable. Also, 250 students attended events or activities in Social Entrepreneurship organized by the Center, and six teams entered the Social Venture category of our Howard Leonhardt Business Plan competition.
In addition to teaching Social Entrepreneurship to undergraduate & graduate students at UF, we created and ran the Young Entrepreneurs for Leadership & Sustainability High School Summer Program from 2007-2016. It was the only summer program in the US where college-bound high school students learned and practiced the skills of successful entrepreneurs and community leaders, while being inspired to solve social, environmental, and economic problems. In 2016, the program received the United States Association of Small Business & Entrepreneurship Education (USASBE) Specialty Entrepreneurship Education Program Award, the highest honor for an entrepreneurship education program and a once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment for the impacts created by the program over its 10-year run. Additionally, Mayor Lauren Poe & the Gainesville City Commission designated July 7, 2016 as “YELS Day,” to commemorate the impact the program made in the local community.
Today the Social Impact & Sustainability Initiative at UF is fulfilling the mission on which we embarked 15 years ago: It offers students opportunities to get involved in Social Entrepreneurship through courses, co-curricular activities (experiential learning, venture plan competitions, internships, etc.), and extracurricular activities (student organizations, speaker series, and film series).
For example, in the undergraduate Intro to Social Entrepreneurship class, over 100 students work on a project focused on poverty, hunger, and food insecurity. They work with five local nonprofit organizations in the greater-Gainesville community, including Working Food, Grow Hub, Food4Kids Backpack program, and GRACE Marketplace. Students in the graduate classes work on Experiential Learning Consulting projects that target many different issues, including but not limited to: lack of access to affordable healthcare; children & families experiencing homelessness; education, arts & culture; employment & economic opportunities for marginalized populations, and environmental sustainability. It is the combination of the courses and co-curricular activities that most powerfully impacts students’ understanding of critical social and environmental issues and their potential to develop solutions.
Most importantly, we are creating opportunities for students to learn the key skills, mindsets, and competencies of social entrepreneurs by educating, inspiring, and empowering students to become changemakers, who will endeavor to solve social, environmental, and economic problems in their local communities and around the world. And they are our greatest success.