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How Memorial is turning out a new generation of social entrepreneurs

Memorial business dean Isabelle Dostaler believes the university can help stem the exodus of talent from Newfoundland. ‘Big efforts need to be made to keep young people here or bring people here from other countries,’ she says.

David Howells/Memorial University

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Over the past few years, Newfoundland and Labrador's Memorial University has developed a reputation for social entrepreneurship.

In nine of the past 10 years, student teams from business and other faculties at the St. John's university have been crowned Canadian champions in annual competitions of Enactus, an international non-profit organization that promotes student entrepreneurship for social good. Last year, a Memorial team placed second in the global Enactus competition after taking the top prize in 2016.

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In 2013, the university and Fogo Island-based Shorefast Foundation established a formal partnership that includes research stints for Memorial faculty and various university-community collaborations. Meanwhile, three university faculties, including business, established the Centre for Social Enterprise in 2016 to promote social innovation across the province. The centre is an on-campus complement to the Centre for Entrepreneurship that assists students, staff or faculty interested in taking a startup idea to the next level.

As part of Memorial's expanding footprint in this area, the faculty of business administration has announced plans to offer a master-level program in social enterprise and entrepreneurship this fall.

"The idea is that you are creating your own job, a startup or getting involved in social enterprise," says dean Isabelle Dostaler, whose faculty announced the new program last month. "It is interesting there are so many initiatives in social enterprise everywhere across the province."

A newcomer to the province, Dr. Dostaler was appointed dean last August. An aviation researcher and administrator formerly at Concordia University's John Molson School of Business in Montreal, she embraces the university's self-described "special obligation" to serve residents of Canada's eastern-most province.

"I am discovering Newfoundland and it is amazing how this is such a resilient population," she says. "These are difficult times and the population is declining. Big efforts need to be made to keep young people here or bring people here from other countries."

Social enterprises are seen as a potential tool to encourage local residents and potential immigrants to start their own businesses and stay in the province.

"That really is the big goal," says Dr. Dostaler. "The university and the government are working with that objective."

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In year-end media interviews, Premier Dwight Ball cited job creation as a top priority for his province in 2018.

Memorial joins a growing list of business schools that have created new options to study social entrepreneurship, with electives, special programs and experiential learning opportunities that lead to new firms.

Dr. Dostaler says her faculty's new degree, approved last month by the university, differs from others by integrating social entrepreneurship throughout the 12-month program.

In addition to two on-campus academic semesters, students are to spend four months in the summer working for non-profits, conventional businesses or other employers to apply what they have learned in school. Dr. Dostaler says the program emphasis will be on experiential learning throughout the year, with the potential (still under discussion) for a major case to be tackled by the entire class.

She says her faculty hopes to attract an initial class of 20 students this fall, ideally with a mix of domestic and international students. As well, business leaders will be recruited to act as coaches for each cohort. "He or she will be there and would mentor throughout the process," she says, emphasizing the value of connecting students and business leaders.

Tuition for the program, which includes some scholarships, is about $25,500 for provincial students rising to $33,270 for those from abroad.

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Increasingly, says Dr. Dostaler, social entrepreneurship is seen as integral to any business given global pressure for sustainability and corporate social responsibility. "If not, there is a real chance our planet might not exist at some point," she warns. "It is a big thing."

In her new position, Dr. Dostaler says she is keen to expand her faculty's role in contributing to the province's well-being.

"What is neat about Memorial University is that it is the only university in the province and has a duty to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. That is something that really attracted me to this job."

She adds: "I feel it is my role to do everything I can to make sure I can contribute to this province by managing the school and the faculty in a way that it is well connected to the community."

Canadian school eyes a global prize for social entrepreneurs

The Hult Prize is an annual $1-million (U.S.) winner-take-all competition for student entrepreneurs around the world. This year's challenge is to develop high-impact energy solutions for millions, including the poorest communities.

Last month, a team from the evening MBA program at the University of Toronto's Rotman School was among those that advanced to one of several regional finals for the Hult Prize that will be awarded in September.

Follow Jennifer Lewington and Business School News by subscribing to an RSS feed here or via Twitter @JenLewington.

Contact Jennifer at jlewington@bell.net

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