Annual Social Enterprise Symposium draws entrepreneurs to Stamp

Shira Shafir, director of Social Innovation and Impact at TOMS, speaks at the Social Enterprise Symposium in the Grand Ballroom of Stamp Student Union on Friday, Feb. 27, 2015.

Shira Shafir, director of Social Innovation and Impact at TOMS, speaks at the Social Enterprise Symposium in the Grand Ballroom of Stamp Student Union on Friday, Feb. 27, 2015.

More than 600 student entrepreneurs from this university and across the country aimed to use their business skills to impact social issues at Stamp Student Union last week.

The Center for Social Value Creation held its annual Social Enterprise Symposium on Friday, featuring a speaker from TOMS Shoes, a Do Good Challenge showcase and several lectures and workshops. The center is one of the business school’s 12 Centers of Excellence, which conduct research and prepare business students to enter particular marketplaces.

“Our mission is to create a better world through business,” said Ryan Steinbach, the center’s community manager.

Through the symposium, the center hopes to encourage students to tackle world issues from a business perspective and show how members of the university community are tackling similar social causes, Steinbach said.

“It inspires a lot of students, who don’t necessarily think about it, to have businesses that can help impact social and environmental issues,” Steinbach said.

Through the AshokaU Exchange, 115 people from across the country attended the symposium. AshokaU is an organization that promotes entrepreneurship at universities. The yearly exchange brings students, faculty and entrepreneurs together to discuss how to get students involved in social entrepreneurship.

“The symposium lines up perfectly with the AshokaU mission of focusing on social entrepreneurship, as well as mobilizing and inspiring university students,” junior environmental science and policy major Isabella Mia Lee said. “It’s a great way to showcase the Maryland flavor of social entrepreneurship.”

Lee, president of AshokaU Terp Changemakers, said the most interesting part of the symposium was the keynote lecture by Shira Shafir, TOMS director of social innovation and impact.

“She illustrated how TOMS Shoes has been listening to criticisms instead of fighting or denying them to develop how they interact with the communities they are working with to address issues,” Lee said. “It wasn’t just about the company. It was about her role becoming a changemaker and how she never planned on being a part of TOMS Shoes, so you always have to be on the lookout for new opportunities.”

Sophomore finance and government and politics major Suhayla Ahmed, a board member of AshokaU Terp Changemakers, said she most enjoyed the Do Good Challenge showcase.

Students who participated in the eight-week Do Good Challenge — a partnership between the business and public policy schools — presented their business ventures at the symposium. Each event attendee received “Do Good dollars” they could donate to one of the projects.

“It gives people attending a chance to give back and interact with people who are working on amazing projects instead of just sitting and listening to a lecture,” Ahmed said.

At the end of the day, the symposium turned the donations into actual money to help the Do Good Challenge ventures. The symposium members have not yet totaled the amount donated, Steinbach said.

Senior economics major Kikanae Punyua presented his venture, Rafiki Beads, at the showcase. He sells bracelets made by women in Kenya to help them take financial advantage of the skills they have.

“This is where we spread our name and meet people,” Punyua said of the symposium’s showcase. “It’s a great venue to get exposure.”

Sophomore finance major Farhaan Khalik attended the symposium because he knew several people who were presenting their projects at the showcase.

“In the business school, we always emphasize that you should not look at being socially responsible as a financial sacrifice because of how people gravitate towards organizations that are socially responsible, and it ends up being financially beneficial,” Khalik said. “The growth of all these student organizations that focus on social responsibility is really promising for the future, and it shows that it’s something that works.”

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