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Social entrepreneurship is a tough one to teach

There are plenty of anecdotes, examples and support for social-impact initiatives in the education sector, from kindergarten students creating yoga programs to solve perceived problems of grade three students, to institutions of higher learning that support minor programs in social entrepreneurship for undergraduates.

But the marriage between social entrepreneurship and education continues to face challenges of differing perspectives and agendas.

I recently attended a conference on social entrepreneurship and education in San Diego that brought together 650 people from 40 countries, and represented 150 institutions. There was a clear attempt to blur the lines and divides between faculty, students, and those who were entrepreneurially minded.

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A variety of perspectives were presented, with the common goal of breathing life into social entrepreneurship – which deploy business principles to achieve desired social outcomes – by using educational institutions to support change makers and problem solvers. As an educator, doctoral student and social entrepreneur, I was able to provide three perspectives, but I recognized that my perceptions differed depending on which hat I was wearing and what topic was being discussed.

When exploring the challenges, opportunities and best practices of using online platforms in the classroom that promote social entrepreneurship, my viewpoints shifted.

As an educator, I am concerned about student engagement and I question how I can create an online platform that doesn't come at the expense of face-to-face interactions. At times, I get discouraged. For some faculty at the conference, the hesitation to teach social entrepreneurship online was apparent and the opposition was supported by their breadth of experience as educators. For others, examples of success presented opportunities for more accessibility and convenience, not only for their students but for them.

As a student, I had a positive experience with an online course that encouraged engagement and fit my schedule. However, meeting students who are reluctant to take an online social entrepreneurship course, preferring in-class teaching, was a reminder that the way we learn varies, and what we find effective may not work for others.

As a social entrepreneur, I subscribe to the idealistic notion that anything is possible and we can create a platform – or multiple platforms – to support effective student learning and engagement. It requires resources and commitment from institutions and faculty, and from students. Is it possible? The social entrepreneur in me says yes, of course it is.

Whether you are an educator, student, social entrepreneur, or all of the above, your perspective and experience will inevitably vary.

Conferences and forums that bring together ideas, vehicles, expertise and experiences can help us discover points of view we may be missing, and we have to be open to them – our students, change makers and problem solvers rely on us to help them achieve their goals.

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Rumeet Billan is a social entrepreneur, educator and PhD candidate at the University of Toronto. She teaches, writes, and speaks on leadership, social entrepreneurship, and youth wellness.

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