spea magazine

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bride&groomSaying “I Do” to Doing Business and Doing Good

How the marriage of the corporate world and taking care of society has resulted in the hottest new study area in years...social entrepreneurship.


From Susan B. Anthony to Dr. Muhammad Yunus, social entrepreneurs have taken on society’s greatest challenges. And though history includes numerous such leaders – today, more than ever, social entrepreneurs are making a profound difference all over the world. They are ordinary people with extraordinary ideas, and they are altering the way nonprofits affect change by combining social missions with business strategies.

The School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) is training tomorrow’s social entrepreneurs through the Graduate Certificate in Social Entrepreneurship. As the first formal university-based social entrepreneurship program in the Midwest, it combines the nonprofit, public policy, and business worlds. It is distinct in that it brings together SPEA, the Kelley School of Business, and the Center on Philanthropy in a one-of-a-kind collaboration.

“Bringing a business and a policy school together in a joint educational venture like this is unique,” says IUPUI SPEA Professor Wolfgang Bielefeld. Along with advising and mentoring students, Bielefeld designed and teaches the program’s keystone course, “Principles and Practices of Social Entrepreneurship.”

“What this partnership brings is both enhanced understanding and skills on both sides,” says Bielefeld. “Business students acquire a better understanding of the nonprofit sector, including the issues that it addresses and the management challenges it faces. Nonprofit students, likewise, become more familiar with the business sector and some of the tools used in successful companies.

Bielefeld continues, “The result is socially minded leaders who are able to use a unique combination of skills to lead organizations that make positive change.”

Training Tomorrow’s Social Entrepreneurs

The enthusiasm for the social entrepreneurship program – from students, faculty, and alumni – was evident from the start. In teaching “Principles and Practices of Social Entrepreneurship” course for the first time, Bielefeld had one of his best classes ever.

“All of the students were motivated to acquire and use an entrepreneurial outlook and skills to address social issues,” says Bielefeld. “The speakers were inspirational and showed how real positive change has been made in a number of areas locally.”

Launched in 2006, the social entrepreneurship certificate program is open to students pursuing master’s degrees with SPEA or Kelley on the Bloomington or Indianapolis campuses. Requirements for the certificate include 18 credits of course work and participation in a qualifying social entrepreneurship internship. The program also includes a social entrepreneurship conference, speaker series, and clinic program that connects students with area businesses and agencies.

Dr. Michael R. Twyman, who graduated from SPEA with a Public Management Certificate in 1995, sees the new program as a way to cultivate competent and market-ready social entrepreneurs.

“The certificate program is timely and will help students build their own social entrepreneurship toolkit. It gives them the competencies and skills they need to be ready to enter the marketplace,” says Twyman, director of grant programs in Indiana for the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust. The Trust seeks to help people in need, especially women, children, and families; protect animals and nature; and enrich community life in the metropolitan areas of Indianapolis and Phoenix.

Jill Marshall, who graduated from SPEA with an MPA in 2006, had wanted to take business courses as a student at Indiana University and is happy to see that the new program offers that option.

“I am glad the school has been able to come up with a curriculum that marries the philosophies of SPEA and the School of Business,” says Marshall, program and budget analyst for the Corporation for National and Community Service. CNCS oversees AmeriCorps, Vista, Senior Corps, and several other federal service learning initiatives and works to improve lives, strengthen communities, and foster civic engagement through service and volunteering. “Students need a more complete picture of how change is made in society,” says Marshall. “They have to know how to meet that double bottom line of social and financial value.”

In addition to introducing students to the basic skill set of a social entrepreneur, the program also hopes to teach intangible but vital values. “The IU program is rooted in philanthropy,” says SPEA Professor Leslie Lenkowsky. Lenkowsky co-directs the social entrepreneurship certificate program with Donald F. Kuratko, executive director of the Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at IU.

Lenkowsky continues, “In addition to skills, students learn the values and the real tradition of public service.”

lenkowsky w studentsThe Making of a Social Entrepreneur

Today’s social entrepreneurs are tackling a wide range of social issues – from providing the world’s poorest with microcredit to delivering books to low-income children in Massachusetts. Yet they all seem to possess a basic set of values, core characteristics that the SPEA program hopes to instill in its students.

In her work with CNCS, Marshall deals with thousands of grantees across the country. Along the way, she has developed a clear list of characteristics that set a social entrepreneur apart.

“A social entrepreneur recognizes an obvious need and then figures out what they can do about it,” she says. “They have the energy, creativity, and courage to fill that gap and get things done. There are people in communities all over the world doing this every day.”

An example of how creativity and tenacity fueled a social entrepreneur’s vision can be found in the work of Dr. Muhammad Yunus. The Nobel Peace Prize-winning Bangladeshi banker, Yunus founded Grameen Bank and the idea of microcredit. Initially dismissed as unrealistic, his concept is now helping millions of people around the globe break out of poverty.

“In establishing the bank, Yunus consciously rejected the standard operating procedures of other financial institutions. He used a very simple but radically different approach that everyone thought would fail. He went against all conventional wisdom,” says Bielefeld. “His creative use of new methods to address major social problems is exemplary. Social entrepreneurship is all about creativity and having a positive impact by doing something different.”

Combining Money and Mission

In addition to teaching skills and instilling values, the certificate program helps students address the challenges facing nonprofits in their shift to become profitable organizations.

“There’s always been the need for more innovation in the nonprofit world,” says Bielefeld. “And now there is a push for market-based solutions and more accountability.”

Twyman’s work with the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust involves helping nonprofits become more competitive and viable. “Because there’s more competition, nonprofits need to be more in tune with community needs and more creative in how they execute their core mission,” he says.

One such organization is Second Helpings, whose mission is to turn unused food into meals and jobs. Based in Indianapolis, the organization rescues prepared and perishable food and re-prepares it as nutritious meals for the hungry. Second Helpings took their idea to the next level by deciding to also use the food to train disadvantaged adults for careers in the culinary field, helping to eliminate hunger at its source.

“This is a perfect example of how organizations can be more creative in increasing their revenues while still sticking to their mission,” says Twyman.

Throughout, Marshall has seen the impact new pressures put on today’s nonprofits to perform. “We’re reaching a point in our society where we have to justify the best we can do for the public good and the resources that we’re using to meet those goals,” she says.

Despite any new pressures, social entrepreneurship has been around forever and will only continue to expand. “Though this double bottom line is important, the competition for resources does make me nervous. We have to remember that it’s the social value that you have to keep in mind,” says Marshall. “And sometimes you just can’t measure the good you are doing in the world.”

With the nonprofit sector the fastest-growing segment of society, the time is right for SPEA to take the lead in developing tomorrow’s social entrepreneurs, leaders who understand that it isn’t just about making money, but about making a difference.

– Kathy Gutowsky


Wolfgang Bielefeld is a professor at SPEA, IUPUI, where he specializes in the relations between nonprofit organizations and their environments. He is also the editor-in chief of the Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly. Professor Bielefeld received his Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Minnesota.

Les Lenkowsky is a professor at SPEA, IUB and IUPUI. He focuses on nonprofits, institution grant-makers, volunteering, and civic engagement. He is also the director of graduate programs for the Center on Philanthropy at IU. Professor Lenkowsky received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1982.