Developing a new generation of social innovators and entrepreneurs
Professor Albert Ko, Director of Service-Learning and Director of Entrepreneurship Initiative, in Lingnan University’s Office of Service-Learning (OSL), points to a clear trend in the evolution of social enterprises, particularly in Hong Kong and Asia.
“People began to realise if they wanted to grow their social enterprise and have a real impact, then the business had to be scalable. In the past, there were good, successful social enterprises but the problem was it was very hard for them to scale up.”
Prof Ko cites the example of small restaurants, employing elderly people to serve food, which though successful in their own right, couldn’t scale into multiple districts. “In the past social enterprises started more from the social side rather than the business side. Now people have begun to realise they need to have a much stronger business model in place in order to achieve their social mission.”
It’s to help support the development of such a new generation of social innovators and entrepreneurial leaders, that Lingnan University is launching its new MA in Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management (SEIM), this September. The programme is the product of a collaboration between Lingnan’s School of Graduate Studies and its OSL.
One thing that distinguishes social enterprises from purely commercial businesses is that they have multiple bottom lines, Prof Ko points out. “There are multiple objectives you want to achieve to be rated as successful. Some social enterprises hire a lot of unemployed people, or those from the [otherwise] unemployable population, and that is how they make a major contribution to society. Some of them are very profitable compared to conventional businesses.”
Some key features of this new MA
To equip students with the necessary skills to meet this range of objectives, the SEIM programme transcends the disciplinary boundaries of education, social science, management, and technology, with the Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management elements of the programme also working in concert with each other.
While not all graduates will go on to launch their own startup, the aim of the SEIM programme is to give them knowledge and confidence to go down that road, if desired. What’s more, a significant proportion of the programme will focus on innovation methods, and examining and improving processes. “So, even a social worker or a school teacher can apply this type of innovation thinking to improve their service,” Prof Ko notes.
Innovation has become an important factor in many fields and can take the form of a new, or improved, process, service or product. “But how do you make sure that the way you’re moving forward is in line with your objective?”
This is where innovation management, and its use of models and strategies to validate and audit innovation, comes in, Prof Ko explains. With something tangible, like a product, this is easier to do, whereas with a continuous process for a service, it is a little trickier.
Another methodology used in this programme involves the validation of learning. The, possibly anticipated, failure of an innovation, with criteria established in advance for analysing what has happened, allows for valuable lessons to be learned for the future.
The MA in SEIM also offers the possibility of internship experience. “Lingnan has strong links to NGOs in Hong Kong. These are engaged in activities from social work to public health and engineering, and some of these will be giving project opportunities to our students.”
Through Lingnan’s partnerships with domestic and overseas higher education institutions – including those on the Mainland, in Taiwan, and in the UK, the United States and Japan - students will get the chance to gain international academic exposure and advanced experiential education. In addition, distinguished professionals involved in various social innovation initiatives, will be invited in as guest speakers.
Why Lingnan is the right home for this programme
The need for people from diverse professions – such as social workers and engineers – to work together, smoothly and effectively, can be key to the success of a social enterprise. So, along with Lingnan’s strong links to local NGOs, the fact that it is a liberal arts university, and therefore places great weight on the value of interdisciplinary learning, provides a firm foundation for this new MA.
Underpinning more practical details is the ethos of Lingnan University, which is encapsulated in the motto, “education for service”. The realisation of this guiding principle has been recognised on the international stage. The Times Higher Education University Impact Rankings 2020, placed Lingnan second in the world in terms of Quality Education, as defined in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Social enterprises, and innovation that aims to tackle societal challenges, such as inequalities in wealth and opportunity, can become key tools to help achieve a number of other of these SDGs.