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Connecting Nonprofits and Social Entrepreneurship to Create Social Impact

Social entrepreneurship is a fairly new concept, where a startup business or entrepreneur focuses on a cause such as homelessness, food poverty, health care or the environment. It’s so new there is not one agreed upon definition to describe the work. If you read a number of books on the topic, chances are you’ll get a different variation of the term in each one.

As the field has expanded, so to have the similarities between nonprofit organizations and social entrepreneurs. That’s when Lauren Miltenberger, PhD, assistant professor of public administration, and James Klinger, PhD, a professor from the Villanova School of Business and current Entrepreneur in Residence at the Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship (ICE) Institute, decided to get together and co-teach a course on this burgeoning topic, “Creating Social Impact,” which intersects the disciplines of their respective work. Miltenberger has practical experience in nonprofits prior to teaching. Klinger taught business and entrepreneurship courses for more than 30 years at Villanova and currently sits on the leadership team of the ICE Institute.

Connecting Nonprofits and Social Entrepreneurship to Create Social Impact

The course is part of the Villanova Integrated Academics (VIA) program, developed by the Office of the Provost, which features an integrated curriculum that connects different areas of study by cutting across subject-matter lines and emphasizing unifying concepts. These courses bring together students and faculty from varying majors, disciplines and colleges to experience how diverse industries work together in real-world scenarios.

“We are always talking about the same thing, but in completely different ways,” said Miltenberger. “This has been a great experience of opening up the lines of communication to foster this new way of thinking. This course has really changed the way I think about teaching, through the content and the process.”

According to a PwC report, corporate social values become more important to millennials when choosing an employer once their basic needs, like adequate pay and working conditions, are met. The report says, “millennials want their work to have a purpose, to contribute something to the world and they want to be proud of their employer.”

The social impact ecosystem is already in place at the University through its founding Augustinian Catholic principles. Students are involved in service break trips, the Center for Peace and Justice Education, the largest student-run Special Olympics event in the world, the St. Thomas of Villanova Day of Service and so much more. The course is another opportunity for students to get involved and help prepare themselves for their life and careers after Villanova.

“The biggest question we have for our students is, ‘How will you make an impact after you graduate?’” said Klinger. “Students need to understand nonprofits and their operations. Many of the majors here go on to work with these groups. But even for those that enter the business world, there are complimentary attributes. This course will help students be aware about how to operate an organization at any level more effectively.”

Throughout the course, Klinger and Miltenberger conduct a theoretical review of the field and work with the students to create their own definition of what they believe social innovation is. They use the texts, Getting Beyond Better: How Social Entrepreneurship Works and The Social Entrepreneur’s Playbook: Pressure Test, Plan, Launch and Scale Your Enterprise to guide the discussion. Each week throughout the semester, students complete a reflection journal. It’s a process that allows them to take the concepts discussed in the course and develop key self-awareness skills to reflect on how they can make social impact within their day-to-day life within the context of:

  • Seeing:  What did I learn this week that most helped me understand the world of social impact?
  • Being:  Why does this information matter to me?  How can this help me grow as a social impact leader
  • Creating:  How can I use this to create social impact?

The final piece of the course has students gaining practical and applied learning experience by working directly with a social entrepreneur. The Impact Center, located in nearby Haverford, connects school-age students with volunteer opportunities in areas of personal interest, while engaging students in dialogue about the key social issues in the communities they’ll be working with.  During the spring semester, the class is broken up into groups to identify recommendations of target markets for the organization to focus on for the future. The class will present their recommendations during the University’s Pitch Day competition, Tuesday, April 30.

“It’s important to make students and nonprofits aware and to take what you have to maximize your impact,” said Miltenberger. “It’s not just about bringing in money to your organization. It’s equally, if not more, important to give back to those areas and communities that your organization works in every day.”

Many of the students in the class already have internship experience with nonprofits. So putting them in this environment with a real client allows them to gain important skills to build on after the course and after their time at Villanova. There are a wide mix of majors as well as upper and underclassmen in the class.

“Social entrepreneurship is such an emerging topic that it couldn’t be taught in any other way,” said freshman art history major Alli Baroni. “I came to Villanova knowing I wanted to pursue a career in the social impact world. The class has taught me that as long as you’re dedicated, anyone is able to enact change.”

The future of social entrepreneurship may be unknown, but the Social Impact course provides a starting point and lays the groundwork for students to take with them for the future.

"I am continually impressed and amazed by the intellect of Villanova students and their capacity and desire to understand how to make change and have a positive social impact," Miltenberger said.

“Captivating Courses” is a feature introducing readers to some of the unique classes offered at Villanova University. Numerous courses across the University’s six schools and colleges provide students the opportunity to examine interesting and relevant topics. These features will give you a glimpse into some of these courses and the experiences they provide students. Find all of the Captivating Courses here.