Thursday, April 16, 2009

Dancing with the Elephant

I co-edited a book a while ago that included a chapter titled "Raising Mice in the Elephants Cage." It was written by a longtime IBM exec, Jim McGroddy, and it described the challenges of being a technology "intrapreneur" within a large corporation. The title sort of says it all, but the paper is still worth reading.

From what I have been able to figure, making entrepreneurship happen on a college campus is also a lot like raising mice in the elephant's cage. The elephants, of course, have a tendency to worry about the mice. And the mice--to be specific here, student entrepreneurs and the programs that support them--have a tendency to feel fundamentally unwelcome under the feet of Disciplines and Departments; as a consequence they may quite naturally come to the conclusion that their best approach is either to lurk in corners, drawing as little attention to themselves as possible, or to leave the cage altogether.

Motivated by our participation in Ashoka's Changemaker Campus program a few of us at George Mason University (inspired and led here by Paul Rogers, an English Professor, and Alex Gudich-Yulle, a senior at Mason) are giving a go at dancing with the elephant... "wrestling" being not an option. Working with the university leadership--relatively nimble Proboscidea in this case, fortunately--we have put together what we are under the impression is a first-in-the-nation plan to make social entrepreneurship and social enterprise a core part of the college experience at a major university. (Are we wrong? Others? We want to know.) The proposal, titled "Social Entrepreneur and Social Innovators: 21st Century Leaders of Change" is one step away from being adopted by Mason's leadership as the core of the quality enhancement plan (QEP) that will guide undergraduate education for the next 5 years.

What is interesting about the QEP is that the plan ultimately adopted will be linked directly to the university's accreditation process. That means (1) it consists of binding commitments and (2) it is supported with real funds, and (3) it cuts across all activities related to undergraduate education.

The QEP committee has invited input from inside and outside the Mason community via the topic selection survey at . If you think that it would be interesting to see a 30,000 student university situated within 30 minutes of the White House focused on social entrepreneurship for a half decade, then this would be a good opportunity to share that view with Babar ...

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