Social Entrepreneurship is the work of someone who recognizes a social problem and uses entrepreneurial spirit and resourcefulness to organize, create, and manage a venture to make social change. Whereas a for-profit entrepreneur typically measures performance in profit and return on investment, a social entrepreneur assesses success in terms of the impact on society.
A year ago, December 2006, Urban Students Empowered Foundation, a non-profit that I co-founded, had a major leadership dilemma…
In 2003, my good friends, Matt King and Dawn Pankonien, started a non-profit with me that provides resources for urban high school students to go to college. We worked with 7 students a year and helped them with college awareness, tutoring for GPA improvement, ACT test taking skills, college applications, and financial aids. At the time, we were pleased by simply making a significant impact on 14 teenagers' lives. It was 100% volunteer efforts, and I have to give kudos to Matt and Dawn for all of their time.
After three years, Matt decided to change schools to become a Vice-Principal at a new school, plus he wanted to start a new charter school. Dawn decided to get her PhD in Anthropology at Northwestern, and I love being a venture capitalist. Yet, we had a program that works with no leader to carry it forward to impact more urban youth. After interviewing 20+ people, all the candidates were extremely experienced (and high salaried) non-profit executive directors OR program level managers (experienced enough to run a program but too junior to lead an organization). We almost decided to cancel the expansion of our program.
In February 2007, we met Jeff Nelson, a mover shaker entrepreneur that wanted to create a huge social movement. He had some amazing experiences at Teach for America. His only issue from that experience was his inability to help urban youth all the way to college. Unanimously, Matt, Dawn, and I agreed to hire Jeff as our Executive Director.
The next 5 months was simply put, a roller coaster. One day, Jeff and I might co-author a documentary about it.
In August of 2007, we selected 30 high school Juniors at three CPS schools to become Us Empowered fellows. At our recent board of directors meeting, we approved a plan to hire two more FTE’s and expand to 3 more schools and over a 100 students. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but I really believe that we’ve backed a social entrepreneur that is creating a movement that will impact urban communities.
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