Mount Saint Vincent: undergraduate experience

Teaching students to see business as a tool for change

Social entrepreneurship is a way of life at Mount Saint Vincent University.

“A social entrepreneur is an entrepreneur with a really big heart.”

That’s how Dr. Peter Mombourquette, Chair of the Department of Business and Tourism at Nova Scotia’s Mount Saint Vincent University, starts the conversation when explaining the concept of social entrepreneurship to undergrads.

He’s been a champion of the concept of social entrepreneurship at ‘the Mount’ since the university first began looking for ways to enrich the undergraduate experience with extracurricular activities five years ago. What began with a food drive and blanket donation has since become woven into the fabric of student life.

“We want our students to be successful, and extracurriculars provide a richness of experience that complements what happens in class,” says Dr. Mombourquette. “We’ve chosen to focus on social entrepreneurship because the world has complex problems that require empathy, innovation and business skills to solve.”

Where ‘making a difference’ meets the bottom line

By embedding the concept into its undergraduate experience, Mount Saint Vincent is turning out a generation of graduates with first-hand understanding of how businesses can be profitable and contribute to the betterment of society.

“Social entrepreneurs are interested in making money, but they also measure success in terms of their impact on society,” says Dr. Mombourquette. “If you can, through your business, solve a problem society is wrestling with, you can be more successful than a traditional entrepreneur.”

Today, Mount Saint Vincent has a strong program of speakers, panels, field trips, extracurricular volunteering and community engagement. Since 2011, the capstone of the university’s social entrepreneurship experience is an annual Social Entrepreneurship for a Day (SE4D) conference in October.

“Students in groups are assigned mentors and given the chance to develop an idea for a social business,” Dr. Mombourquette explains. “On the second day of the conference, they go out into the city and bring it to life. The experience shows them they can start a business and have a positive impact.”

According to Maria Wamboldt, a co-op student at the Mount who participated in the first SE4D and now helps organize it, the conference is key to cementing social entrepreneurship in the minds of students. Knowing she would get to work on SE4D, Ms. Wamboldt took her job with the department because the inaugural SE4D was, in her words, “such a powerful experience.”

Taking social entrepreneurship to the streets

Throughout the weekend, experienced social entrepreneurs shared their stories and inspired the students to act on their ideas. One group saw a partnership opportunity with small shops that shared their values and created a series of chalk-art ‘signage’ to help drive traffic to the stores. Others handed out homemade buttons and collected food bank donations.

“Having the opportunity to work with social entrepreneurs so closely was a selling point for me,” says Ms. Wamboldt. “Having people who have done it tell you it can be done, and preparing you realistically for the challenges—that’s what makes this different from a regular undergraduate entrepreneurship class.”

In its first year, SE4D raised more than $2,000 for charitable organizations. In year two, more than $2,800 was raised.

Dr. Mombourquette says he’d like to expand the program in the future. Last year’s edition hosted some 200 students from Mount Saint Vincent, Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia Community College and local high schools.

“That diversity is important,” Dr. Mombourquette says. “The more perspectives you bring together, the more opportunities there are for innovation. Entrepreneurs tend not to worry about boundaries so much: this is all about breaking the mould.”

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