Walking the Walk

Through a Sullivan-sponsored program, Randolph-Macon students make a tangible difference in their community

Paper shredding and social engagement might not seem like natural companions. The Sullivan Foundation, however, recognizes that in the fast-developing field of social entrepreneurship just about anything can be leveraged to make a positive difference in the world. A little creativity is all that’s needed.

One shining example of that spirit can be found at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia, where students recently helped a non-profit that runs a recreation center for developmentally disabled adults—and soon hopes to provide them with meaningful work in a shredding business that will help fund the center.

This is just one example of the kind of projects coming out of Randolph-Macon’s Social Entrepreneurship Program, created through a partnership with the Foundation. The program uses lessons and ideas from commercial entrepreneurship to find solutions to social problems. This is often described as “doing well by doing good,” in which entrepreneurs try to use the revenue generated by businesses to address existing social problems.

Housed in the Political Science department and directed by Political Science Professor Richard Meagher, the program offers unique opportunities for students of all majors to learn about social change.

Shredding for the common good

Randolph-Macon College students learn by doing. That’s especially evident in Meagher’s Social Entrepreneurship class. The course, offered each fall, enables students to use approaches from political science, sociology, and business studies to learn about the field, and to get hands-on experience working with a local social entrepreneur.

“The entrepreneur is our client,” says Meagher. “Students work in project teams to come up with ideas to help them advance their mission.”

In this case, the client, Skills Development Center (SDC), was looking for a way to expand the services they provided while also creating new funding for those they already provide.

“The director, Pat Weaver, wants to launch a shredding business to help her clients find meaningful work, and to help fund the center,” says Meagher. “Our students worked in three teams, with one each focused on market research, marketing, and legal research.”

On December 4, 2015, Meagher’s students presented the results of their group projects to Weaver and her colleagues. The response seems to have been overwhelmingly positive.

“Student recommendations ranged from how much to charge per pound of shredded paper, to how to use Instagram to promote the business, to what kinds of regulatory requirements might apply,” says Meagher. “I think our client was thrilled with how concrete the students’ information was, and how helpful it will be for her going forward.”

Making change, expanding horizons 

Bar Hass, a 2016 graduate with a sociology and psychology major and political science minor, didn’t realize before taking Meagher’s course that so many social enterprises exist, and on multiple scales, from local to international.

“The variety of organizations reflects that there isn’t a single equation to solve every problem: resolving social problems is a tangible process that may need to be reapplied to different scenarios of the same fundamental issue,” says Hass.

He and his group outlined the legal recommendations for the SDC should they proceed with their shredding business.

Nadia Roane is a member of the class of 2017 and is a psychology major and political science minor.

“This semester I learned the ins and outs of social entrepreneurship, which is something I hadn’t previously thought about,” says Roane, who plans on attending law school. “There is a lot of hard work that goes into creating a sustainable venture, so it was pretty cool learning about it. In Professor Meagher’s class I was part of the ‘legal team’ and during the presentation I discussed the steps needed in order to obtain the Certificate of Destruction, a document that shows that the shredding business has followed proper regulatory procedures.”

A new approach to age-old problems

Meagher, who joined the Randolph-Macon faculty in 2009, believes in going beyond the theoretical and addressing problems head on. In addition to directing the program, he directs Randolph-Macon’s annual Social Entrepreneurship Week, serves as a political commentator on local television and maintains a Richmond, Virginia politics blog.

He sees social entrepreneurship as another natural extension of that motivation to go beyond the classroom walls and engage in tackling issues that have always plagued communities.

“Students really do learn about how to change the world,” says Meagher. “Social entrepreneurs are working to find practical, economically sustainable solutions to our toughest problems: poverty, lack of education, homelessness.”

This article was adapted from one originally produced by Randolph-Macon College. To read the original piece, please visit rmc.edu.

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