By Edith Allard
UNH students got a sneak peek into the world of social innovation on Monday as they listened to the advice and experiences of Boston-area business leaders.
The panel event was called: “The New Social Entrepreneurs: From Passionate Activists to High Impact Social Change Agents.” MUB theater II was nearly full for the event, with about 120 students in attendance.
The three panelists spanned three different generations of social innovation, each with a different journey to his or her current position in a business designed for positive social impact.
“It’s kind of heartwarming to see that there can be kind of a happy medium between [for-profit and nonprofit],” said senior Shaina Maciejewski about the event.
The first panelist was Sam Greenberg, a recent Harvard graduate who created Y2Y in Harvard Square, a student-run shelter for homeless youth ages 18-24. Next was Siiri Morley, executive director of the Boston market of “Strong Women, Strong Girls” (SWSG), an organization that helps kindle the confidence and leadership skills of elementary-age young girls. The final panelist was Dr. Lisa Jackson, co-founder of the College for Social Innovation (CSI), which was created to build career skills in a new generation of social entrepreneurs.
This event was an opportunity for students to glimpse the possibility of a career path they might not have considered, working for a business that was designed to help people.
“Students can do unbelievable things, and I think we’ve seen that over and over,” said Greenberg. He started his career in social innovation early, and believes other recent graduates can too if they are willing to learn new
During the panel, the three speakers described their journeys into social entrepreneurship and encouraged other students to get involved in what inspires them. Each of them had a background in a different form of activism, from the Peace Corps to civil rights.
“Learn from others,” stressed Morley about getting involved. “While you’re in school, do something concrete.” In her view, gaining experience makes you more “marketable” when you finish school.
Students asked questions about how the panelists’ programs work, how progress is measured, the challenges they faced in their careers, and more. One UNH senior, who was taking classes and working at Starbucks full time, asked how busy students can find the time to get more involved in volunteering or social innovation.
In response, Jackson discussed potential CSI programs where an employer would financially support a student’s ability to gain more experience.
Morley added that the answer wasn’t “necessarily adding more activities, but how can you go deeper with what you’re working on?”
The panel wrapped up with some final comments and practical advice from the panelists.
“[The most] important thing you can do is be brave and try something you haven’t tried,” Jackson said. Later, she added, “Take learning as it comes. At some point, it will all start to make sense.”
For some students, the concept of social entrepreneurship was an entirely new idea—and a potential career path.
According to sophomore business major Elizabeth Harmon, the panel “showed that business can do something [positive]. It’s interesting how business can factor into [making a difference].”
For other students, the panel introduced them to organizations they hadn’t considered before.
“When you’re in the women’s studies program, you’re constantly thinking about problems and the solutions for those problems,” said Maciejewski. “I feel like if I don’t have the skillset to do [something], I know … the people to reach out to, to help me … actually create change.”