By Edith Allard
UNH’s Center for Social Innovation and Enterprise has named Gary Hirshberg, co-founder and chairman of Stonyfield Farm, the 2015 Social Innovator of the Year.
The award is designed to recognize someone who is committed to social innovation, who combines a social or environmental mission with the sustainable business model to make that mission happen.
According to Fiona Wilson, co-director of the center for social innovation and enterprise, Hirshberg was honored with this year’s award because of his consistent dedication to creating lasting change, while considering the impact of everything that his thriving company does.
The Social Innovator of the Year award is linked to the Social Venture Innovation Challenge (SVIC), a competition run by UNH that rewards participants for the most innovative and sustainable business-oriented solution to a social or environmental problem. Over $25,000 in prizes are given to winners to fund their ideas.
There is both a student track and a community track for the competition. Past winners of the SVIC include the Post-Landfill Action Network and Amano’s Mobile Grocery Stores.
On the final of the SVIC, Hirshberg will deliver his keynote speech, titled “Inventing the Future: How Social Entrepreneurship Can and Will Save Our World.” Using examples like the expansive organic industry, he plans to discuss how desirable economic results can also lead to positive societal impacts. The importance in social entrepreneurs crafting public policy will be another subject considered in the speech.
Hirshberg supports the challenge for its encouragement of young entrepreneurs to “be more opportunistic and expansive in thinking about the potential impact of their enterprises.”
“To me, social entrepreneurship is a continuous improvement process that starts with thinking differently,” he said in an email interview. “Regardless of whether or not the participants win the competition, all benefit from the encouragement to think bigger and more optimistically.”
Last year, Hirshberg acted as a coach for several of the student finalists in the SVIC, including the idea that became the second place winner.
In Hirshberg’s view, the opportunities for socially-innovative ideas are endless. For young entrepreneurs, he has a key piece of advice.
“The bad news is that prior generations have done a terrible job of protecting the planet and our health,” he said. “The good news is that there are now unlimited opportunities to create successful businesses that … right these wrongs. Also, determination is probably the most undervalued but essential ingredient to ensure social venture success.”