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Push for Social Entrepreneurship at UVA

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Students graduating are looking forward to having that coveted college degree.  You may often hear of business or commerce programs, but there's a new up-and-coming field at the University of Virginia that is grabbing attention of administration and students alike.

Just days before she walks the lawn, fourth-year student Lily Bowles is looking back on some of her greatest accomplishments at UVA. That includes co-founding a new "social entrepreneurship" initiative at UVA.

"Making money should only be a way of keeping that engine going so you can actually make a difference and social change," explained Bowles.

The concept of social entrepreneurship is still being defined in the world of academia.  In the social entrepreneurship initiative document, social entrepreneurship is defined as "an approach to creating system-level change through the application of entrepreneurial thinking to social ventures, non-profit organizations, government institutions, and NGOs to create economic, environmental, and social value for multiple stakeholders, not just shareholders."

Bowles and her colleagues are hoping to clearly identify the idea and how to implement it at UVA.  That not only means presenting the current document to faculty and administration, but also consulting a group of students from a variety of disciplines to re-examine the plan and add to it if necessary.

Simply put, Bowles has adopted the business motto of "doing well while doing good", and she hopes that mindset catches on in UVA classrooms.

"UVA has tons of resources and tons of people with so much energy, and it's just a matter of bringing those people together to collaborate on this initiative and to make things happen,"  Bowles said.

While the concept hasn't caught on in classrooms yet, there is a chance for students to get involved with Student Entrepreneurs for Economic Development (SEED).  That extracurricular, student-run organization offers free consulting services to nonprofits and social entrepreneurs, giving those involved real-life experience in the field.

Third-year student and SEED president Elliot Rosenberg aspires to start his own social entrepreneurial business when he graduates, but for now, he spends a lot of time in the McIntire School of Commerce.  Rosenberg says there is a lot of misunderstanding and a general lack of awareness about the idea, but he wants to see that change.

"We want more people to find out about it and become interested and, if not pursuing it as a career, just finding out how they can get involved," Rosenberg said.

SEED has scored a number of awards and grants since its creation about four years ago.  A social entrepreneurship-derived idea won second place in the third annual University of Virginia Entrepreneurship Cup and the Jefferson Trust Foundation just handed over about $55,000 to the program to help advance the initiative at UVA.

Most importantly for these students, this field holds a viable and fulfilling future.

"You can make your career extremely meaningful, and not necessarily sacrifice earning income for yourself," Rosenberg added.

Back in her lawn-side dorm, Bowles prepares for a summer internship, and hopefully later in her career, a dream job of matching impact investors with social entrepreneurs.  But more than anything right now, she's looking forward to graduating and watching this initiative grow.

"The making money part is just a way of keeping it sustainable and making sure that the community can continue to grow and continue to flourish based on your efforts," Bowles said.

A few pilot courses are set to hit the curriculum in the coming academic year, and the work group pitching the initiative says it could become a minor if the number of classes and amount of student interest grow in years to come.