A pilot project at Memorial’s Centre for Social Enterprise is developing students to become social enterprise champions.
Over the fall semester, the centre piloted a project that engaged seven undergraduate students from the Faculty of Business Administration and the School of Social Work for work placements at social enterprises in St. John’s.
Skills and career paths
The project was specifically designed to meet the needs of the partner community organizations in exchange for practical experience that helped students hone their skills and explore future career paths.
“Students are looking for this type of opportunity, which is embedded in experience,” said Nicole Helwig, the centre’s manager. “It’s a chance for them to discover the social change maker in themselves.”
Catalyst for social entrepreneurship
The Centre for Social Enterprise is a joint initiative of the Faculty of Business Administration and the School of Social Work that acts as a catalyst to nurture social entrepreneurs and strengthens social enterprises and the social entrepreneurial ecosystem in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“We believe that social entrepreneurship is an important pathway for achieving social innovation,” said Ms. Helwig.
“Through placements such as these, we aim to develop leadership capacity in our students to engage in social entrepreneurship, as well as create opportunities for students to learn through and about social enterprises.”
Sydney Sheppard and Peter Kachanoski are two of the students who participated in the pilot project. Ms. Sheppard is a fourth-year student in the bachelor of social work program and Mr. Kachanoski is in his fourth year of the bachelor of business administration program.
They were paired to work at Stella’s Circle on the Rags to Riches project, an initiative in which Community Support Program participants re-purpose donated linens to create industrial rags.
“It was an amazing opportunity to experience another side of business where the success is not just measured by profit but rather the social impact it delivers.”
Stella’s Circle offers a range of services and programs for people who face many barriers such as mental illness, addictions, poverty or long periods of unemployment from fully participating in their community.
“Our purpose was to provide a fresh perspective on the initiative and try to improve overall operations,” said Mr. Kachanoski. “It was an amazing opportunity to experience another side of business where the success is not just measured by profit but rather the social impact it delivers.
“Speaking with the participants of the initiative, it was very clear how important this was to them and I’ll never forget just how much good can come from initiatives like this,” he added. “As I move forward with my career, I will definitely need to be part of an organization that values their impact on people and the environment over purely profit-based business.”
Coming from the perspective as a social work student, Ms. Sheppard looked at participants’ satisfaction with the program and the perceived strengths and limitations of Stella’s Pride, the micro-social enterprise within Stella’s Circle that facilitates the Rags to Riches project.
“Despite having different academic backgrounds, Peter and I worked collaboratively as an interdisciplinary team throughout the project,” said Ms. Sheppard. “I learned how the combination of the social mission and the business principles involved in Stella’s Pride is comparable to some core pillars within the social determinants of health, which recognize the conditions in which people live as key areas that impact health and well-being.”
“Peter and I . . . recognized that the main goal of the program was to provide empowerment and social opportunity to the participants.”
Working within a social enterprise allowed the students to see first hand the ways social and business principles can co-exist and even complement each other.
“When assessing the sustainability of the social enterprise, Peter and I discovered the important balance between the social mission and the business principles by recognizing that the main goal of the program was to provide empowerment and social opportunity to the participants, and also that the overarching goal could not be achieved without the success of the business itself,” Ms. Sheppard said.
Ms. Helwig says the interdisciplinary nature of this pilot placement reflects the partnership upon which the centre was established while also delivering additional skills and perspectives to partners in the community and diverse experiences to participating students.
“We often hear of the need to break down silos, and this program builds bridges.”
“We recognize that major challenges faced in the world today require skills, competences and perspectives that no one discipline can bring on its own,” she said. “We often hear of the need to break down silos, and this program builds bridges.
“Giving students the chance to get past their respective jargon to work side-by-side and learn from one another is a valuable opportunity and an important skill to develop in our future leaders.”
The Gathering Place and End Homelessness St. John’s also participated in the pilot project.
Ms. Helwig says she is now looking at ways to further develop the pilot project to engage more students, including those from programs not focused on business or social work, as well as community organizations.
“We are currently gathering feedback from the students and community partners from the fall pilot. In the winter semester, we are also piloting projects through curricular innovation. By this I mean engaging students in a for-credit course for community service learning with a specific focus on new social enterprise development,” she said.
“Moving forward, we would like to see social work and business students paired full time in the community to strengthen existing social enterprises and to bring new social enterprises to life. The interest we have seen so far from students and community partners is encouraging and informs our plans as we develop our programming. Student-run social enterprises at Memorial may be the result in the not-to-distant future!”