Problem Statement

The American South faces a well-documented multitude of social issues, including but not limited to: educational inequity and underperformance at the secondary level; crippling poverty and higher unemployment compared to the national average; pervasive obesity and addiction; poor sexual health and high teen pregnancy; a shortage of health care professionals, including primary care physicians, mental health providers, specialty physicians and dentists; and a higher mortality rate due to heart disease, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, poisoning (including drug overdoses), and other health issues. These persistent issues have led to a marginalized class of citizens who have historically been denied opportunities to rise above their circumstances and improve their lives and their communities.

The Sullivan Foundation believes these issues do not entirely reflect a crisis of funding, energy, or empathy. Rather, they point to a crisis of education, direction, and guidance. The Sullivan Foundation is committed to addressing these issues through market-based entrepreneurial solutions, enhanced educational opportunities for the next generation of civic leaders, and the creation of mission-driven businesses that can sustain themselves, provide steady, good-paying jobs, and re-energize communities.

Social entrepreneurship as a tool for addressing social ills is not a new concept. However, a perusal of the entrepreneurial landscape shows that most organizations supporting entrepreneurship, such as business incubators and accelerators, are presently centered largely in urban areas. Rural communities and edge communities (i.e., smaller cities, towns or suburbs within a rural area) remain underserved and may have their own specific needs that distinguish them from urban communities.

Addressing the Problem

In addition to annual scholarships and service awards, the Sullivan Foundation offers educational programs focused on service learning, civic engagement, and social entrepreneurship. These events presently include:

  • The Ignite Retreats: Presented each fall and spring in (respectively) Asheville and Raleigh, North Carolina, the Ignite Retreats teach college students and community learners how to conceive, develop, and launch a social venture—a business or nonprofit that aims to solve a social problem within the community. Over a three-day period, students immerse themselves in workshops, learning experiences, and networking events designed to “ignite” positive change and better communities. The retreat activities are led by facilitators, coaches, successful entrepreneurs, and change-makers who guide students on a journey to discover how they can improve their communities in a positive and sustainable way through social entrepreneurship ventures.
  • Field trips: Several times annually students from across the Sullivan network meet in cities, such as Chattanooga and Nashville, to learn directly from local social entrepreneurs. Students visit and tour local mission-based businesses and exchange ideas with the founders and staff to learn more about their work.
  • Sullivan Summer College Courses: The Foundation regularly sponsors college courses during the summer term focused on service to the community and social entrepreneurship. These courses further develop the skill set of the students to improve their communities.
  • Sullivan On-Campus Student Ambassadors: After returning from Sullivan Foundation programming, students become part of a larger network of Sullivan students, joining both Ambassadors on their own campus as well as Student Ambassadors on all 69 Sullivan partner school campuses. These Student Ambassadors regularly communicate, meet, and coordinate community engagement projects within their communities, often funded by Foundation grants.
  • The Sullivan Summit: Held annually in the spring, this event provides faculty and campus leaders from across the Sullivan network of schools with an exceptional professional development opportunity. Participants acquire a deeper understanding of the social innovation and entrepreneurship community and leave with useful tools and ideas that can be directly applied to their campuses and classrooms and ultimately lead to the development of social business enterprises in their communities and larger regional areas.
  • The Faculty Fellowship Program: Each year the Sullivan Foundation selects eight faculty members from across its network of schools to participate in a three-year faculty fellowship. During this time, the faculty members are mentored and supported by the Foundation and tasked with developing, in detail, a particular social innovation and entrepreneurship project that they will ultimately incorporate into new or existing classes and community initiatives.

Our Plans