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Social Entrepreneurship

Sustainability is about change, not preservation.  It requires transformation of social and economic systems. It questions whether the current system is creating a future where we want to live.  Sustainability makes people uncomfortable.  It challenges existing power.  It is radical.  It puts us at odds with the system that employs and entertains us.  It encourages us to question basic assumptions of modernity such as control of nature and perpetual economic growth. Sustainability challenges the status quo.

For these and other reasons discussed previously, colleges resist teaching sustainability or creating academic units around the topic of sustainability.  Universities are tradition-bound institutions that don’t like change.  What can students at these institutions do?

Most institutions of higher education do have leadership institutes and service learning centers within their ivy-covered towers.  These programs were developed to build student capacity to become more engaged citizens and create a positive force for change.  Leadership can be learned. You can study the habits of highly effective people, the principles of servant leadership, or the approaches of adaptive leadership.

But opportunities for leadership must be created.  Certainly there is opportunity at the national level through Learn and Serve America. But universities can and do help here.  I bet every university has some kind of service learning program.  Mine has several. For example, the Center for Student Engagement & Community Partnerships brokers and helps organize projects that combine students, faculty, and community members to conduct and lead projects locally and around the world. 

Leadership and service seem well-accepted programs within the academy.  Together they form the basis for social entrepreneurs, what a public television series calls a new class of heroes:Just as business entrepreneurs create and transform whole industries, social entrepreneurs act as the change agents for society, seizing opportunities others miss in order to improve systems, invent and disseminate new approaches and advance sustainable solutions that create social value.”

If you are a student interested in sustainability, you can be a hero.  Take advantage of leadership training and service opportunities. If you are a college faculty or administrator: find ways to create and then integrate these opportunities into college curricula. Collectively we can promote the change sustainability requires.

R. Bruce Hull, IV, Ph.D. is a professor in the College of Natural Resources at Virginia Tech practicing social ecology. His work focuses on healing forests fractured by pressures of urbanization and globalization. He is author and editor of over 100 publications, including two books: Infinite Nature (Chicago 2006) and Restoring Nature (Island 2000). He serves on the editorial advisory board for Gale’s GREENR environmental and sustainability studies web portal.

Posted on: January 24, 2012, 6:00 am Category: Sustainability and Education, View from the Lectern Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

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