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Business and Social Sector

Bridging the business and social sector

A conversation with noted social entrepreneur Bill Drayton
December 16, 2009

Social entrepreneurship, a growing field that uses business models to create both for-profit and non-profit enterprises with a social mission, is rapidly transforming the business landscape, according to Bill Drayton, the noted social entrepreneur, who spoke recently at Brandeis International Business School (IBS). "You are all privileged to live in a moment of profound change, not seen since the agricultural revolution," he said.

In introducing Drayton, the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Ashoka, IBS Overseer Ronald M. Ansin called him, "one of the most influential people of our time." Ansin was an early supporter of Ashoka, a global nonprofit organization dedicated to finding and fostering social entrepreneurs.

Drayton, a 1984 MacArthur Fellow, shared the impact that Ashoka Fellows are having across the globe acting as "change agents for society" and tackling challenges ranging from financing higher education to reducing childhood bullying.  "Our job is not to give people fish, it's not to teach them how to fish, it's to build new and better fishing industries," he says of his organisation.

He suggested that sources of funding-particularly in for-profit social enterprises-are shifting from foundations to venture capital firms and angel investors. Students entering finance will see an increasing number of social enterprises pitching business plans for investment capital, says Drayton, a former McKinsey & Co. consultant and assistant administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency.

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IBS Overseer Ronald M. Ansin

Social entrepreneurship is one of many fields that is capturing the interest of the campus community. In response to increasing student interest, IBS Professor Michael Appell M.A. '79 is introducing a new course, "Managing The Triple Bottom Line" which will explore the combination of financial, social and environmental bottom lines that companies are beginning to employ in building new business strategies and tactics for the 21st century.

Drayton's visit was co-sponsored by the newly formed Brandeis Students for Social Entrepreneurship (BSSE) club (www.BrandeisSSE.org).  The club's founder, Jessica Olans MBA '12 (Heller) reports "students are gaining hands-on experience in the fields they wish to pursue after graduation by writing business plans for enterprises with a social mission."

As an example, she cited the work of Sanjay Pranesh M.A. '10 who is writing a business plan for Project Harmony, a social enterprise around nearly extinct, traditional styles of Indian music. Project Harmony will create a venue for musicians-many of whom have forefathers who performed in the courts of Maharajahs and Royal families-to sell their music. The venture, which will launch in India next summer, provides the opportunity for these musicians to gain mainstream popularity and make money from sales of CDs and digital music, according to Pranesh. More importantly, he adds, Project Harmony will "work to build awareness to preserve the cultural roots of the country."

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