June 9, 2010
Social Entrepreneurship Students Take Help To Communities In Need
Brock School of Business students spent the semester giving back to the community as part of their curriculum for their Social Entrepreneurship Program. In the Woodlawn community, they worked with community residents to design rentable garden plots. The program will offer residents the opportunity to lease a plot and equipment as well as purchase seeds to plant their own garden. At harvest time, they can either eat their own produce or sell it at a local farmers market sponsored by the YWCA, Church of the Highlands and Jones Valley Urban Farms. Jones Valley also will provide technical assistance and cooking courses to help promote nutritious eating in a community, which has limited access to grocery stores.
Another group studied the feasibility of a nonprofit merger clinic housed in Cumberland Law School at Samford University that could provide subsidized legal council to promote consolidation and merger activity among the 21,000 nonprofit organizations in Alabama. The issue of nonprofit mergers and acquisitions is a trend that is growing nationally even though the trend has not caught on with Alabama nonprofits. Mergers emphasize strategic partnership as a way to overcome the financial problems many of organizations currently face because of declining revenues and increasing community needs.
A third group drew up plans for nonprofit incubator in downtown Birmingham. They worked with a lease-holder in Pepper Place to allow nonprofit organizations to jointly lease office space and share fixed infrastructure costs such as information technology, utilities and administrative support. The model will be replicated at various sites across Alabama.
The final project the students worked on was a decorative brick-making business. Other cities have combined artisans and businesses to promote economic development in the inner city. Using this model Main Street Birmingham has partnered with Space One-Eleven to start a custom decorative brick-making business. The objective is to anchor an artisan business corridor in downtown Birmingham as well as to offer job-skills training and employment to the local community. All of the projects outlined were a direct result of Samford University’s Brock School of Business and the Alabama Association of Nonprofits partnership and teamwork to help nonprofits statewide. Through this partnership, students who were enrolled in social entrepreneurship wrote comprehensive business plans for the projects to assess their feasibility as well as guide their implementation.
"Given Samford’s mission to foster academic, career, and ethical competency while encouraging social and civic responsibility and service to others, the social entrepreneurship program represents one of our most important strategic initiatives,” said Jim Reburn, Acting Dean of the Brock School of Business. “These projects expose students to and provide them a way to help solve important, real world problems. We are thrilled to be able to partner with the Association on these projects.”
The Alabama Association of Nonprofits moved to Samford’s campus in December. Serving as the state’s only centralized source of information, services and advocacy specifically aimed at helping Alabama’s nonprofit sector, the organization has provided students with opportunities to work with nonprofit organizations in order to get first-hand knowledge of how a nonprofit works.
“The Board of Directors and our executive staff continue to be tremendously pleased with our relationship with Samford University and the Brock School of Business,” said Association President and CEO John Stone. “The projects completed this spring were the first of what we hope will be many opportunities to expose Alabama’s nonprofit sector to Brock students and faculty. From a business standpoint, the relationship is allowing us to tap into the very best and brightest young minds in Alabama who we know will be nonprofit leaders, volunteers and board members once they graduate from Samford and begin making their mark on Alabama.”
The projects were the major assignment in the Brock School’s Social Entrepreneurship and Not-for-Profit Management course. Professors from across the School lectured in the course to provide students with a broad variety of perspectives, including economics, entrepreneurship, ethics and marketing, on critical issues related to managing nonprofit organizations.
“This is the capstone course in our Social Entrepreneurship program,” said Jeremy Thornton, Social Entrepreneurship Program Coordinator. “Students also take courses in entrepreneurship and non-profit accounting, as well as intern in local organizations as part of their studies, to provide them comprehensive training in how to start and run a nonprofit or for-profit, socially entrepreneurial organization.”
The program also offers scholarship opportunities for social entrepreneurship students, including Social Entrepreneurship Fellowships. Because many nonprofits cannot afford to pay interns, Fellowships of $2,000 are awarded to selected students who work at least 150 hours in these organizations.
“The social entrepreneurship program is a vital part of our efforts to train aspiring entrepreneurs in the Brock School,” said Franz Lohrke, who holds the Brock Family Chair in Entrepreneurship. “These and other initiatives have also helped our program gain increasing national recognition. For example, in 2008, Ashoka, a leading international social entrepreneurship organization, highlighted the Program as one of only 16 comprehensive social entrepreneurship programs in the U.S. (and one of only 28 in the world), and this year, USASBE, the largest independent, professional, academic organization in the world focused on advancing entrepreneurship, chose the Brock School’s as the best new entrepreneurship program in the U.S.”