By Camille G. Scarborough
At first, the conversation was stilted and formal, even awkward. Gathered in a common room of Luther Place Memorial Church in a Washington, D.C., neighborhood only recently revitalizing, a small team of Georgetown University students and a group of women experiencing homelessness sat facing one another to discuss how the women could start their own business.
The students were in a community-based learning sociology course on social entrepreneurship that brings together 20-25 students with diverse skills, and matches them with community organizations like Luther Place to work on projects ranging from helping Latino day laborers create a labor cooperative to a feasibility study on whether it was worth it for a restaurant worker advocacy organization to operate a food truck. (It wasn’t.)
“I want students to come out of this experience with a sense of purpose.”
When the residents at Luther Place Night Shelter for Women shared that they enjoy knitting and other handicraft projects, the Community Craft Collective was born with the mission to create and sell the women’s handmade masterpieces around the region, including a regular table at the university’s farmers market.
Within a few weeks, the awkwardness was gone, replaced with laughter, hugs, and plans to keep in touch.
The Community Craft Collective was founded in 2012, and the original knitting projects have expanded to include jewelry and other accessories. Best of all, each of the women in the collective has some income and sense of purpose.
“From branding to design to finding outlets for sales, we built relationships with these women and really saw how they could thrive from this organization,” says Silky Kadakia (C’12), who matched with the collective in her senior year. “Though years have passed, I still think about that project and the change it brought for the women. The social entrepreneurship course helped shape my decision for what I wanted to do.” Kadakia now works on data issues affecting veterans’ health and refugee humanitarian aid.
Rethinking the Bottom Line
Inspired by the book How to Change the World by David Bornstein, the Georgetown social entrepreneurship course was created in 2009 with a mission to “expose students to fresh concepts in social change and provide them with an opportunity to work with a community partner on a special project,” according to the course syllabus.
“If a business entrepreneur’s bottom line is profit, or financial capital, we could say that the social entrepreneur’s bottom line is social capital, or public value,” explains the instructor Sarah Stiles, who has won numerous accolades for her inspirational teaching, including two Outstanding Faculty Commitment to Diversity awards.
Housed in the College’s sociology department, the course accepts students from across the university, including the Georgetown McDonough School of Business, the School of Foreign Service, and the School of Nursing & Health Studies. It is especially popular with juniors and seniors, though it is open to all undergraduates – and there is always a wait list.
Stiles says her aim for the social entrepreneurship course is “to create systemic and sustainable positive social change in the District of Columbia.”
“I want to use this course to ‘go into the future’ with my students, to help them marry their skills and passions while making a difference in the community,” Stiles adds. “I want them to come out of this experience with a sense of purpose.”
Jacob Maxmin (C’17) took the course in his sophomore year after hearing rave reviews. His experience in the class gave him a new perspective on what entrepreneurship could look like.
"Prior to taking this course, I had little experience with the intersection between business and social benefit. I think I had always viewed 'business' as something that does not directly benefit society,” Maxmin says. “However this course showed me more about how for-profit companies can make a difference in society and enhance the quality of people's lives.”
Because the students work so closely with one another in this course, Stiles begins each semester with interactive workshops. In one of her favorite exercises, students complete their name tags by filling in “I’ve got a head for _____” or “I’ve got a heart for _____.” Students then walk around the room, introducing themselves by their passions and skills. A studio art major and an international relations major may discover a mutual passion for working with underserved children.
“Professor Stiles creates a space for students to express their own creativity and opinions.”
Stiles likes to kick off the class with a party at Busboys and Poets, a restaurant and community gathering place created by Andy Shallal, renowned in D.C. as a model social entrepreneur. Following that event, students choose their community partners and form small groups. Each week there is a different guest speaker, a panel discussion, or an activity that ranges from learning about the Ashoka Empathy Initiative to playing the game Co-opoly. Along the way, students master the basics of business plans.
At the conclusion of the course, the students, university administrators, and community partners gather on campus for a premiere of student-produced documentaries that the organizations can use for fundraising and marketing.
“I don’t give finals; I give finales,” Stiles says with a smile. (View past documentaries on YouTube to learn about the range of projects, from Campus Kitchen to Wearable Justice.)
Anjali Daryanani (F’11) remembers the social entrepreneurship course as “one of the most valuable courses at Georgetown—not only because of the subject matter covered and taught, but because of the direct, hands-on, unconventional style.”
“Professor Stiles is one of the most personable and approachable professors I’ve ever had. She creates a space for students to express their own creativity and opinions,” Daryanani says. “This course affirmed my belief that individuals can themselves spark change in the world by working directly with communities, finding new and creative ways to solve problems while learning from the example of others,” she adds.
Today, Daryanani works in India as a documentary filmmaker creating tools for NGOs that are making a sustainable impact in vulnerable communities.
The Engelhard Method
The social entrepreneurship course is part of Georgetown’s Engelhard Project, which integrates wellness issues with academic content. The goal is for students to see wellness as a prerequisite for achieving potential. Named after its sponsor, The Charles Engelhard Foundation, this methodology is, according to Stiles, “inspired by the theory that we are at our most creative and perform at our best when we are happy and healthy.”
Engelhard courses allow professors of all disciplines to infuse their courses with issues of wellness however they choose. The students in the social entrepreneurship course set wellness goals—physical, spiritual, or mental—for themselves that they maintain throughout the semester. Each student has an “accountability buddy” to help them achieve their goals. The buddy can even be inanimate: one semester the Engelhard Project provided each participating student with a fitness tracker.
“The Engelhard Project is closely aligned with Georgetown’s commitment to cura personalis, or care of the whole person,” Stiles says. “After all, social entrepreneurship is all about personal and community well-being. If we are going to address these apparently intractable problems, we need to be at our best.”
The Center for Social Justice
“Professor’s Stiles’ social entrepreneurship course demonstrates the best in community-based learning (CBL) here at Georgetown,” says Andria Wisler, executive director of the Center for Social Justice, which is responsible for designating and supporting undergraduate CBL courses.
A CBL course involves work with marginalized and underserved individuals and groups. This work matches closely with Georgetown’s mission to encourage students to be women and men for others while serving an important community need.
“Students in our CBL courses love this kind of field work because they’re concentrating on focused projects that have the potential to transform a community and themselves,” adds Wisler.
Visit the Center for Social Justice website to learn more about CBL courses, including the criteria for CBL designation and different curriculum models. For more great examples of Hoyas leading the charge to help and serve others, check out #HoyasForOthers on social media.