Sit in on: Social Entrepreneurship

For our series on great Bradley courses, this month we take you to students pursuing causes they’re passionate about by looking at organizations making an impact on them.

You’re taking: Social Entrepreneurship, a course that examines how to solve social problems using entrepreneurial models.

Eden Blair illustration

Your professor is: Eden Blair, associate professor of entrepreneurship; director of curricular programs for the Turner School of Entrepreneurship

You’ll do research on: An organization that is meaningful to you. Throughout the semester, students take turns presenting on social organizations making an impact. The range of topics varies widely since it’s dependent on each student’s individual interests. Past presentations have focused on getting youth involved in farming, encouraging kids to participate in sports, reducing inner city gun violence, stopping human trafficking and protecting the environment.

“I think it helps students understand that you can work on these problems — they’re not insurmountable,” Blair said. “Plus, everyone likes hearing what their classmates are passionate about. It’s not just another requirement to tick off. They really care about these issues and that comes through in the presentations.”

One of the businesses you’ll learn about is: Aravind Eye Care System, which tackles curable blindness in India. “There’s a quote in India: ‘A blind person is a mouth without hands,’(with) the message being that these individuals consume resources without providing financial support.”

Blair uses the Aravind Eye Care System as a case study for how an organization can harness market forces to do good. Patients who can afford treatment for cataracts or glaucoma subsidize the cost for others who can’t. “It’s similar to the TOMS model, where each pair of shoes purchased results in another pair given away to someone in need,” Blair said.

You’ll walk away with a better understanding of: the relationship between market forces and social need. “One of my biggest takeaways from the course was the challenge to the idea that capitalism cannot foster social growth or change,” said Patrick Caplis ’16. “We focused on people who run businesses that have a primary function of helping others. The goal of these businesses is to foster change by solving a problem that prevents growth.”

You’ll get up close and personal with: real issues in Peoria. Working in teams, students develop a slate of social ventures designed to address a specific local issue. One year, the class focused on food deserts. Blair asked her students how they dealt with the lack of nearby grocery stores. Their responses — borrow a car from a friend, take the university shuttle — helped them realize that local residents may not be able to access the same solutions.

Students came up with creative ideas beyond “build more grocery stores.” One team suggested a meal prep course that would be doable on a limited budget. Another team proposed sending food trucks with fresh produce into underserved communities. Peoria’s City Council took these ideas seriously and ultimately implemented modified versions of some of these solutions.

You can earn extra credit by: participating in entrepreneurship competitions, attending town hall meetings in Peoria and hearing from visiting speakers, such as James Obergefell, lead plaintiff in the landmark 2015 Supreme Court case on same-sex marriage.

When you leave class, you may think differently about: what your future employer is doing in terms of social responsibility. “If corporations want to hire good talent, they need to start paying more attention to their impact on the world,” Blair said. “This class helps students formulate their own thoughts on that and how they want to make a difference.”

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