University is where most of us from the SEF Team first heard about social entrepreneurship. Hence, we are very thrilled to have Peter, a real pioneer on the field of social entrepreneurship education in Austria, answering our questions.
Why should social entrepreneurship be taught and which role do universities play here?
Social entrepreneurship education meets a rapidly growing demand among students. More and more students are seeking competences and classes on social entrepreneurship and related topics. They see that the world is not exactly running out of problems and wish to do something about it in an entrepreneurial way. In Austria, we see this interest every year at the Social Impact Award, where hundreds of students participate in workshops on social entrepreneurship and develop their own ideas and projects. At WU, such interest has also materialised in the start of student-led initiatives around social and sustainable entrepreneurship, such as 180 Degrees Consulting, oikos and SEF.
How early should we start teaching about social entrepreneurship?
From an educational standpoint, the earlier the better. Research suggests that experiencing pro-social behavior in your youth increases the likelihood of such behavior for the rest of your life. Being able to help others is a powerful experience and those who experience it early are probably more motivated and develop the self-efficacy to become successful social entrepreneurs later in their life.
What are the barriers, if any, when implementing a rather new field like social entrepreneurship into school/university education?
Social entrepreneurship education is a pretty new field, so many of its tools and concepts are still under development. Much of the current teaching borrows heavily from entrepreneurship. While that is often very useful, sometimes the entrepreneurship instruments and concepts do not fit the reality of social entrepreneurs and can be a barrier. For example, many financial instruments and concepts taught in entrepreneurship are heavily venture-capital- and exit-oriented. This is far from the reality of social entrepreneurs in Austria, where social venture capitalists hardly exist and only a fraction of social enterprises chose a legal form that would allow external investments. We should avoid copying concepts blindly, but adjust the teaching to the social realm, the ecosystem we are in and the actual needs of people.
Which tools do you provide your students with?
In our courses, we first provide a brief theoretical background on social entrepreneurship and try to carve out similarities and differences between social entrepreneurship, commercial entrepreneurship as well as traditional third-sector organisations. The larger part of the semester is then focused on experiential learning. Students either work on their own idea for a social enterprise or work with other social entrepreneurs on their challenges.
Which advice do you give your students?
Try it out for yourself! The best way to learn about social entrepreneurship is by getting involved in social enterprises or starting your own social venture. For the later, I founded the Social Impact Award in 2009, which offers free start-up workshops for young social entrepreneurs in 10 countries and is operated in partnership with the Impact Hub Vienna. During these workshops, students from all disciplines can meet peers, develop a new idea for a social venture, improve and structure it and get expert feedback.
What is your vision for the future of social entrepreneurship (education)?
10 years ago, the coolest thing to do for a WU student was to become an investment banker or a consultant. This changed. Currently, entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs seem to be the rockstars on campus. It is likely that this hype will eventually fade a bit, but in terms of substance, I think, the best is still to come. Since we started the first course on social entrepreneurship in Austria in 2009, more universities have included the topic into their curriculum. Moreover, an ecosystem started to grow, including support organisations, co-working spaces, new funding instruments and an increased number of social enterprises. Since 2015, also public institutions have launched funding instruments for social entrepreneurs. The recent announcement of the government to reduce labor costs for start-ups could provide further positive impulses for social enterprises – but of course only, if they are included in the target groups of the proposed measures. I am curious to see the next steps and am optimistic about the development of this sector.
Peter Vandor is senior researcher, co-founder and manager of the NPO & SE Competence Center at WU, the Vienna University of Economics and Business. In his position, he has been leading 50+ collaboration projects with organisations such as CERN, UNDP and the Roland Berger Foundation. His research interests lie in the areas of social entrepreneurship, migrant entrepreneurship and innovation. Peter is founder and academic director of the Social Impact Award, a learning program and idea competition for budding social entrepreneurs in 10 countries. He also initiated the first academic and award winning course on social entrepreneurship in Austria.