By: Megan McPherson
For those of you who don’t know me, I am the Dingman Center’s new Events and Marketing Coordinator. While I’m confident in my events and marketing cred, the complex and challenging world of entrepreneurship is something I am only just dipping my toes into. When I started I was aware of two major and very different events on the horizon: the Pitch Dingman Competition Finals and the Do Good Challenge. Pitch Dingman Competition seemed fairly straightforward to me: five student finalists go head-to-head to win funding for their startups. The Do Good Challenge, on the other hand, is a grand collaboration: founded by the School of Public Policy Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership, the Challenge is now run in partnership with the Robert H. Smith School of Business’s Center for Social Value Creation and the Dingman Center, and sponsored by Morgan Stanley Private Wealth Management. Students are given an eight-week period to “do good”, meaning, in the words of the Do Good Challenge website, “Volunteering, raising money and in-kind donations, starting or advancing a social enterprise, or generating buzz for their cause through social media.” Judges measure the resulting social impact generated by a team’s Do Good campaign and the best teams are rewarded with monetary prizes toward their cause. So what is the Dingman Center’s role in all this?
I sat down with Sara Herald, Associate Director for Social Entrepreneurship at the Dingman Center and former Center for Social Value Creation member, and asked her to unpack the history behind the Dingman Center’s involvement with the Do Good Challenge. “After the Do Good Challenge began in 2012, it became clear that there were two tracks forming: one for students who started a project as part of a larger organization or movement that ended with the challenge, and one for students who founded their own social enterprises to use those ventures for social impact beyond the scope of the Do Good Challenge,” explained Herald. In response to this growing trend, in 2014 the Do Good Projects and Do Good Ventures tracks were created to distinguish these types of entries, and the Do Good Challenge became a partnership between the School of Public Policy and the Robert H. Smith School of Business. Within the Smith School, both the Center for Social Value Creation and the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship support the Do Good Challenge.
A big part of the the Dingman Center’s role is to provide seed funds as well as support and advising services for the many social ventures that sprout in the wake of the Do Good Challenge, including two recent successes Hungry Harvest and Press Uncuffed. But when did social entrepreneurship, or using the tools of business to solve a social problem, become such an attractive concept, particularly to millennials? As to the rise of social impact business models in general, Herald proposed, “There is a macro factor in that we as a society cannot continue to do business in the way that we have.” Resources like water are not infinite, as we had previously thought, but finite. Even traditional corporations such as Coca-Cola are incorporating social impact into their business model as a way to make sure that they are replenishing their resources and ensuring their future availability. She clarified that this trend is not just about the environment, but about “promoting a long-term viable business.” And as to why are millennials are focusing on social ventures, Herald provided this insight:
“The millennial generation cares a great deal about social impact. They reflect on their place in the world and want to become part of a business that shares their values and strives to do more than just make a profit. Not only do they want to work for these types of businesses, they want to buy from them, and they also want to create them.”
As an established millennial myself, my heart swelled to hear such an unusually positive description of my generation. Reflecting on my own experiences and those of my peers, I considered how millennials grew up at the start of a greater trend toward global awareness via the internet and social media. Millennial newsfeeds are filled with articles about global climate change, world hunger, poverty, and the plight of marginalized groups whose voices are only just beginning to be heard. In the midst of this, we see friends posting statuses about issues they are passionate about, sharing articles and contributing to a discussion, or uploading photos of themselves volunteering or at charity events. While popular sentiment is that prolonged exposure to the internet and social media has made millennials too image-conscious, there is a flip-side to this coin: when you see so many of your peers doing good and becoming part of movements toward bettering the world, it’s hard not to want to fit in.
Megan McPherson joined the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship in 2016 as its Events and Marketing Coordinator, supporting Associate Director Holly DeArmond. She assists in developing marketing strategies for the center, promoting events, and managing the Dingman Center’s growing social media presence. She has a B.A. in Japanese and Film from Vassar College and is currently working on a Masters in Cats as mother to two domestic shorthairs at her home in Gaithersburg, MD.
For those of you who want to learn more about the role of millennials in social entrepreneurship, here are two events you should check out this week:
What You Didn’t See on Shark Tank: Evan Lutz’s Journey to Investment
Thursday, March 3 – 12-1 p.m. in 2333 Van Munching Hall
A lunch talk with Evan Lutz, founder of Hungry Harvest and a Do Good Challenge contender in 2014. Sign up now.
Social Entrepreneur Millennial Mash-up Panel at Social Enterprise Symposium
Friday, March 4 – 1-5 p.m. in Stamp Student Union
This interactive panel features a Millennial mash-up of real-world social entrepreneurs taking action to address the problems they’re most passionate about, while disrupting the industries where they work. This session will explore how social entrepreneurship helps to drive positive change, and how the growing influence of social enterprises is redefining business as usual.