This is the 4th part of our Year in Review Series, in which we reconnect with our group of experts about the trends they forecasted for social entrepreneurship in 2011 and look forward to the year ahead. Gabriel Brodbar, the founding director of the Catherine B. Reynolds Program in Social Entrepreneurship at NYU, looks back on the year in social entrepreneurship education, and reflects on the evolution of the school’s philosophy to build a movement that takes a cross-discipline, collaborative approach to social change. #
Dowser: This is the sixth class of the Reynolds program in Social Entrepreneurship. As the sector continues to evolve, what do you think applicants are looking to get out of the program?
Brodbar: There is an overall feeling among our students that there’s a particular skill set and particular areas of knowledge that they need to acquire in order to take the next step in their changemaking careers. For many of our students, there also seems to be a strong motivating desire to get connected to a larger network of changemakers, and to have access to that community will help them develop a more nuanced multiple-lens perspective of their role. #
In our previous interview, you spoke about the cross-discipline approach to social entrepreneurship at Reynolds and the importance of fostering multiple changemaking roles. Have you seen this philosophy of cross-sector collaboration play out outside the university setting this year?
Yes, I believe there has been a move towards legitimate cross-sector relationship building in other areas of society. A few months ago, I was invited to a meeting at the White House that gathered leaders from the private sector, social entrepreneurship, philanthropy, as well as politicians to discuss cross-sector engagement in order to create more meaningful learning experiences. The idea is that you can be more effective at collaborating with other sectors if you learn how to service the needs of different groups. There was a real recognition of the value of that type of practice, and to see how universally this approach was accepted by people from all parts of the political spectrum was really encouraging. We’ve all recognized that as a society we have moved towards a greater sense of personal responsibility. There is finally an understanding that the system is broken and it’s not going to fix itself. #
What role do you think social entrepreneurship education programs like Reynolds should play in the greater development of the sector?
One of the advantages we have at this program is that we are in the unique position to help move the world of social entrepreneurship education in a particular direction. There’s no question that there’s been increased demand for these kinds of classes and programs at both the undergraduate and graduate level that continues to explode. However, we believe that if you are going to have a social entrepreneurship program, there are certain elements that you have to have. We have tried to be a model for a cross-university approach. We structured the concentration from a perspective that it should involve students from across different schools at the university working closely together. That provides the opportunity for students to understand what the landscape of the sector looks like and helps them to orient themselves about what their particular role in the movement will be. #
We want all types of students to know that their skill sets are badly needed, and we provide the cross-sector classes that are going to cultivate well-rounded students. We believe that to better prepare people to enter the space, there is a common set of skills they should be exposed to. A lot of that is about changing the way that people think about problems and problem solving. If the goal is to promote truly innovative thinking and to produce leaders who can executive innovative ideas, the linear model for education is not going to work as well as a true cross-university approach. #
So the belief is that collaboration among various sectors will create more effective entrepreneurs and changemakers?
Yes. Another part of being an effective changemaker is that we want to help people fortify their appetite for risk and be more prepared for the failures that they are going to experience. The way the program is structured really gives students an opportunity to understand what their sense of empathy is all about. We want to boost their confidence while also keeping them grounded and be able to maintain a sense of humility. We want them to leave with a more sophisticated social and emotional intelligence and much more nuanced ideas of the sector. Change doesn’t happen as a result of one brilliant visionary, but rather it’s about recognizing that there are all these other people out there who can make your idea happen, and it’s important to engage with those people and figure out ways that everyone can contribute to change. #
What is your feeling about the more activist approach to change that has sprung up as a result of the Occupy Wall Street Movement?
Social entrepreneurship is about social change; it doesn’t matter how we get there, but we want to be able to learn and replicate and produce more people who have that ability. If you reach new solutions through social activism, or entrepreneurship, or creative community organizing, it doesn’t matter. The goal must be sustainable, scalable, and repetitive social change. #