Social entrepreneur says students have role in bolstering economic development

  Greg Van Kirk delivers annual Pathways to Peace lecture Today’s study abroad programs…

Georgia (Mar 2, 2015)

 

Greg Van Kirk delivers annual Pathways to Peace lecture

Today’s study abroad programs provide ample opportunity for students to become engaged with efforts to alleviate poverty, according to Greg Van Kirk, the investment banker-turned-Peace Corps volunteer who pioneered methods to help entrepreneurs in rural Latin American communities create sustainable businesses.

Van Kirk spoke to an overflow audience attending the annual Pathways to Peace lecture held Feb. 24 at Kennesaw State University’s Coles College of Business.   

As co-founder and president of Social Entrepreneur Corps, Van Kirk collaborates with institutions and organizations — Kennesaw State among them — to develop international internship programs in Guatemala, Ecuador, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. The programs support the development of entrepreneurial approaches to meeting the needs of rural communities. To date, 40 Kennesaw State students have worked with the organization in Guatemala and another 20 students have enrolled to work there during summer 2015.

“As a Peace Corps volunteer myself, it’s been a real pleasure to have students come down as kindred spirits and work together to create holistic and comprehensive solutions for the marginalized communities we serve,” Van Kirk said. “It’s going to take a team effort to alleviate poverty.”

Van Kirk shared some of the things he has learned while creating a successful model for providing “entrepreneurial solutions.”

“If you want to do something to help a community, write down all the things that annoy you about it,” he said. “That’s what you should do something about.”

As a “gringo” in a small Guatemalan village, Van Kirk said he became the de facto tour guide, and everyone asked him where to go when they arrived. Since there was no gathering place, Van Kirk opened the town’s first restaurant with assistance from partners and local residents. When he noticed that most people cooked inside their two-room adobe houses on fires in the ground, he donated a cook stove to one family, which “made a big difference.” That led to work with locals to develop a company to make and sell cook stoves.

That was the beginning of Van Kirk’s development of the MicroConsignment Model (MCM), a method of providing first-time access to life-saving technologies, products and services for isolated villagers through innovative entrepreneurial solutions that are locally-owned, managed and profitable, and therefore sustainable.

“This is not relief work,” Van Kirk said. “We’re devising new ways to innovate and brings these things to the community in ways that are scalable. We’re working to get smart people to come down and get involved so we can scale these entrepreneurial solutions up to larger and more communities.”

Even so, social entrepreneurship represents a shift in paradigm from the traditional business model, Van Kirk explained. “It creates access where there was none, a sense of agency or self-efficacy and control, and empowerment through which people do things they never thought of doing.”

For most businesses, success is primarily measured by profit — by how much they earn, he said. “If you ask what success looks like to social entrepreneurs, that’s not what drives them. You’re taking on the traditional entrepreneurial characteristics and measuring yourself by how much you’ve increased social impact.”

Another distinction of social entrepreneurship is the range of entities that might provide solutions to the challenges or lack of access within a community, including individuals, businesses, governments, nonprofits, charities or any of these working together in partnership. 

Social entrepreneurs are guided in their decision-making by a set of core values, Van Kirk said. These include: do no harm; innovate; be endurable, appropriate, dignified, inclusive, resilient, scalable and system-changing.  

Van Kirk urged students to make a few calculations before committing to the work of social entrepreneurship. 

“You must be self aware and know what your situation is — your strengths, weaknesses, what you’re willing to do and to give up,” he said, adding that the work also requires students to have empathy-triggering understanding; to be curious about the history, ecosystems, current practices, desires, capabilities and needs of the people; and be willing to commit “to go the extra mile and give 110 percent.”

The Pathways to Peace lecture series is produced through a collaboration among Kennesaw State’s Coles College of Business, University Collegeand College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Sponsors include the American Democracy Project, the University’s Peace Studies Programand ENACTUS.

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—   Sabbaye McGriff

Photo by Anthony Stalcup

 




 

A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its approximately 41,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the third-largest university in the state. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 92 countries across the globe. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status, and one of the 50 largest public institutions in the country. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu

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