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Change Your World With Social Business

8 February 2013 No Comment

Andrea Grove

Nawal interviewed Dr. Andrea Grove, Director of the California Institute for Social Business. Andrea Grove is a professor at California State University, Channel Islands. Nawal Rajeh is her (proud) former student.

Can you tell us about the beginnings of the Institute and, briefly, what defines a social business?

Our Institute officially started in the Fall of 2010. Our Vice President for Advancement at the time, Julia Wilson, used to work for Grameen America. She spoke with the President of the University about it and since our mission is really to educate global citizens to make a difference in their community, he thought that  opening this institute was a good fit for the university. Professor Yunus’s idea of social business is a business that is created to address poverty or another social need, such as education, environment, access to technology, nutrition,or  health care. Instead of being nonprofits, social businesses are non-loss, non-dividend companies. Investors may receive back the money they invest in the business, but they don’t take a profit. Instead the profit goes back into the company to help make it sustainable.

In the global context, social business is more well known. People in the States often think it is related to socialism. People misunderstand it. My hope with this institute is that we can spread the word. It’s another tool students have in their toolkit as they leave the university and decide what to do with their lives. It’s more ways we can give people to make a difference–address some of the needs that we have as a global community.

What is your background, and how does it inform your interest in social business?

I am a political scientist and I research and teach about international relations and also courses in Peace Studies. The idea of social business really fits in with my understanding of how to address economic issues around the world. The university has a minor in Social Business now and there is also a certificate available for those in the community. It’s housed in the school of business but it’s very interdisciplinary. The core classes include economics, business, sociology, and even a course I teach on the politics of the developing world. Students learn about the social issues that social businesses would address. We graduated two minors last year, and will graduate four more this year.

Besides the academic degree program, the Institute also engages in research and hopes to help incubate social business in the community. The dream part of this project is to finance and give seed money for that some day.

The faculty team standing with Muhammed Yunus when he came to launch the institute. Photo: Andrea Grove

What kinds of business ideas have come up in the community?

There is a potential collaboration with people who have worked on health care policy. The new law put into affect by Obama opens up the market for this kind of social business.  The idea is to help provide health insurance to farm workers. They don’t have any.  The idea was originally not going to be a social business but their funding was cut because of fiscal cuts. So now they might be a social business. If they do go this route, we will help them with the planning, involve our students, and measure outcomes over time.

Can you tell our readers more about your work in teaching Peace Studies?

Because of the university focus on social justice issues, peace studies is a really good fit. I got the first course passed through the curriculum committee and taught it for the first time last spring. It is under the Political Science Department but because it’s very interdisciplinary, it draws in all kinds of majors. When I started teaching Peace Studies as part of a minor at Westminster College, I looked at a lot of different syllabi from around the country and adapted to my expertise a bit.  I pushed myself to learn more and become an expert, and it really helped me become more interdisciplinary.

What I like most about teaching and thinking about peace studies is how it gets us to think more broadly about peace and what it really means and how you get there.

That’s why I had such a passion for social business–helping people achieve their basic needs around the world.

What hope do you find for the future of these growing fields?

My students. You teach so many students, but there are a few that you touch somehow and you connect with, and it keeps you going. I always think of them when I have a down day. You think you’re not reaching anybody but you can have these connections, and that’s why I keep trying.  It helps students understand they can make a difference.

You talk about all these big issues and they always seem like they’re happening elsewhere, so I always try and focus on how what we buy and other daily choices can make an impact. You don’t have to change the whole world to change the world. Because if you just make any change, you’re changing your world–you’re changing your path. Your world. That’s the way I try to see it.

Andrea Grove is currently editing a book on social business drawing on experts all over the world. It will come out in early 2014, Introduction to Social Business: Theory, Practice and Critical Perspectives, edited by Andrea Grove and Gary Berg.

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