Social Entrepreneurship

Social Entrepreneurship

March 8, 2012
Living-learning community shows intersection of psychology and business

For students in the Social Entrepreneurship living-learning community, studying the basics of effective marketing techniques is just the beginning. The class also is digging in to the psychology that inspires donation behavior, and witnessing directly the impact these motivational strategies can have on a nonprofit organization.

Taught by Jeni Burnette, professor of psychology, and Jeff Pollack, professor of management, the Sophomore Scholars in Residence course began by addressing the overlap between social psychology and business. A key example of the intersection lies in social entrepreneurship, from both the perspective of individuals who initiate nonprofit ventures, and those who choose to support them.

“We look at the reasons people behave in certain ways,” Pollack says. “Then we bring in a socially oriented business and ask what the key messaging is, and how you get people to support that messaging.”

Since none of the students have a background in psychology, Miki Doan, ’14, says that being able to “see how people's minds react to marketing words and strategies, how their personality comes into play, was amazing.”

The class initially was divided into four groups, and each was asked to study a particular pro-social theory. The groups then developed a Facebook marketing campaign based on that theory, and tested the effectiveness. Over fall break, they took a five-day trip to the Dominican Republic, where each group presented their findings and recommendations to Esperanza, a microfinance organization that supports impoverished communities.

“It’s a nice partnership,” says Pollack. “We have a business partner willing to share their records and dealings and finances with us so that they can be more aware of the marketing messages they’re sending out. We went into the partnership saying not, ‘what can Esperanza do for us?’ but almost the opposite — ‘what can we do for Esperanza?’”

Grant Cohen, ’14, a member of the community, enjoyed the opportunity to put theory into practice while helping an organization achieve their mission. “We took everything we learned and turned it into an actual, tangible campaign that Esperanza was able to use,” he says. “It's great that we were able to take something and have Esperanza benefit immediately from it.”

Following the trip, the class was tasked with choosing a focused project to support Esperanza, and developing a campaign to raise money for that project. The lack of potable water in the Dominican Republic resonated with the group, and they collectively decided to raise $25,000 to bring a water purification system to the community. The project has the potential to impact approximately 5,500 families — or 30,000 people — in the surrounding neighborhood.

To initially solicit donations, the class set up a table in the Commons, focusing on small donations from students, faculty, and staff, and created a $10,000 campaign on RocketHub, a crowdfunding website for artists and entrepreneurs. Over the course of the spring semester, the students are collaborating to plan a gala event on March 25, which will also include a silent auction.

“It’s not just about raising money,” says Doan. “It’s also raising awareness about social entrepreneurship and microfinance, and about water scarcity in a developing country. [We want to] show how far one dollar can go.”

Cohen agrees there's much more to the project than collecting donations. “Social entrepreneurship is about creativity and ingenuity. They’re not just giving money to people — they’re giving microloans. It’s up to these individuals to use these loans and create something substantial. It restores basic human rights to people. There’s something really powerful and humanizing about that.”