Social Enterprises: Innovation, Justice, and Community Development
Professor Vanna Gonzales, School of Social Transformation, Arizona State University
The severity of the current recession and the associated ecological and social transformations that underlie it have created a cultural shift in how we think about the relationship between social and economic development. As our understanding of entrepreneurship is being redefined in more socially-conscious ways within the United States, globally, social innovation has become widely embraced as a critical component in fostering just and workable solutions to increasingly interdependent social, economic, and ecological problems.
This unique, hybrid course introduces students to a variety of empirical and theoretical perspectives on social enterprise (SE), the social economy, and social innovation. Bringing together scholars representing a broad range of fields (political science, economics, sociology, justice studies, law, anthropology, and social welfare), the first portion of the course provides a survey of key issues connecting the development of the social economy to innovation, social justice and economic sustainability. Utilizing a comparative, transdisciplinary approach, the course aims to get students to reflect critically on the following questions: How do we conceptualize and distinguish between different types of SEs? What are the key historical, structural, contextual factors that have informed the development of SEs in the U.S. and Europe and how do they influence SEs capacity to promote and maintain social innovation in the 21st Century? What tensions and conflicts arise in efforts to reconcile self interest and solidarity, utopianism and materialism, community development and market capitalism?
In addition to bringing together a global network of students and scholars to provide a rigorous examination of the relevant conceptual, theoretical, and empirical literature, this course utilizes a collaborative learning model to develop university-community partnerships. During the last six weeks of the semester, small groups of 3-4 students will be embedded with each of four local SEs to help develop and implement social innovation projects. Through these joint projects, the course seeks to empower students as learners and social innovators while making a direct contribution to the social economy.