Interested in social innovation or starting a social enterprise?  Not sure where to start? Read about two students' experiences attending The Center for Civic Innovation's Social Enterprise Boot Camp, and then check out the SLS Fall Buzz Course on Social Innovation for Sustainable Communities.  Registration Deadline: October 2nd.

This summer, the Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain offered me the opportunity to attend a boot camp. Thankfully, this was not a physical training boot camp in the sweltering heat, but an air-conditioned boot camp offered by the Center for Civic Innovation, focusing on social innovation. Isabella Stubbs, an SLS summer intern, also participated in the workshop. Together, we spent a day learning the basics of creating an organization that successfully serves a community. As someone who had never taken a business class or considered being an entrepreneur, this boot camp opened my eyes to new ways to support and build sustainable communities.

The workshop covered the basics of starting a social enterprise. It pushed participants to consider key questions that help to define an organization's mission and vision. The organizers emphasized creating enterprises that successfully serve the intended community by remedying a specific issue. To immediately engage participants, they asked us to complete an activity to help define our possible organization.

Each boot camp participant wrote the name of a specific person that they aimed to help through their work. We went on to tell a neighboring participant the "journey" of that person and write up a problem statement, vision statement, and mission statement surrounding this specific person. This was a quick and effective way to help participants realize the true goal of their work or organization. While it may have been uncomfortable to grapple with, I felt that after the exercise, all the workshop participants had made progress towards establishing an idea for their enterprise that was truly based on community need rather than their own personal vision of actions they thought might help a community.

During our lunch, all the participants had the opportunity to discuss their ideas, projects, and past experiences. Learning about the work of aspiring community entrepreneurs inspired and excited me. Attendees presented a wide range of enterprises, from afterschool programs to food services. This connective element of the workshop felt particularly important. Especially in business and community work, people and connections are where I feel I can learn the most about how to be successful in my own work. Isabella shared this sentiment and commented, “Attending the CCI’s Social Innovation boot camp was a great learning and networking experience since so many inspirational community entrepreneurs were in attendance. I always think the greatest resource is people, so interacting with others who are going through the same process as you or have already been successful is the best way to learn.”

This workshop emphasized ideas about sustainable communities that I have also encountered in SLS course work and events. It was particularly focused on listening to a community rather than acting as a hero, and considering the ripple effects of any action one takes in a community. By the end of the day, I felt more confident in my understanding of creating a socially innovative business. Even if I never start a social enterprise myself, I believe learning experiences like this are critical to adding depth to my understanding of the complex network that comprises a sustainable community.