SBA’s social innovation certificate enters second year

The Business of Social Innovation certificate at Portland State, a program introduced last year by the Impact Entrepreneurs in School of Business Administration, is entering its second year.

“The feedback has been very positive so far,” said Jacen Greene, program manager and social entrepreneurship instructor. We have an incredible diversity and range of students of all ages, and I think they all found the content very useful.”

“It’s great for students to gain more real-life experience. I believe our youngest participant was 18 years old and the oldest in their 60s,” he said.

The one-year program consists of three primarily online courses offered in winter, spring and fall term and is supplemented with a field study practicum. For that, students can choose between a Portland field study in summer and an international field study in India in December 2015.

As social entrepreneurship has become a major topic in the past few years, more and more universities are implementing related programs.

“We’re one of 30 Ashoka U Changemaker Campuses worldwide,” Greene said. Ashoka U is an initiative of the global association of leading social entrepreneurs Ashoka to support universities in the field of Changemaking.

Participants of PSU’s Changemaker certificate learn how to examine social and environmental problems and find solutions for them in designing new businesses, programs or nonprofit organizations considering the issue.

According to Greene, the top five job skills on demand with human focus are work ethic, teamwork, collaboration, effective communication, hands-on training, problem solving and critical thinking.

“We very specifically teach these skills. We know that these can all be taught,” Greene said.

Thirty-six participants attended last year’s pilot program and nine of them have completed the certificate.

“Many of them didn’t enter to [complete certification]. They wanted to gain special skills from one course,” Greene said.

Amanda Hess completed the certificate in September after participating in the Portland field study.

“I was able to go through the iterative steps of working on my own concept, called Full Belly Oregon, which would raise funds to get healthy food to hungry families through innovative partnerships with Oregon craft industries,” she said. Her first pilot project is under development.

Registration for the upcoming spring course Money Matters for Social Innovation is now open. It’s the second course after Design Thinking for Social Innovation and will be followed by Storytelling and Impact Measurement.

“We made a number of changes after the first year,” Greene said. “We asked students what they would like to improve. One of the big things we’re working on is to allow participants to take the courses in any order they want, without permission.”

The program is open to students from other universities and interested professionals. “We know that about two-thirds of the students come either from other PSU programs than the School of Business or from other universities. About one-third of the participants are working professionals,” Greene said.

Angela Merrill is an undergraduate community development major at PSU. She enrolled in the certificate program this term, as she was interested in the combination of social value with the mechanism and practice of business.

“The content of the curriculum is really interesting and relevant to today. Also, the community aspect is great. You have people who are experts in their field mixed with sophomores, which is intimidating at first but very inspiring and informational,” she said.

2010 Impact Entrepreneurs was founded by Carolyn McKnight and co-founder Cindy Cooper. It is a group of professors, nonprofits, community members, social enterprise professionals and students at PSU.