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IMPACT: USD’s Platform for Launching Changemakers

by Neal Bloom

By Carter Crockett, Ph.D.

Guest Writer

In any entrepreneurial ecosystem, local colleges and universities have an important role to play. On campus, these institutions provide pitch competitions to inspire future founders. They also offer a source of young talent and event space for the larger (non-student) ecosystem. In a relatively new domain such as social enterprise, these institutions can also provide thought leadership, coursework, and research to encourage entrepreneurial thinking that can positively impact the world. This Impact feature highlights the University of San Diego (USD), which has positioned itself as a champion for social innovators.

Much of this vision is being led by the Center for Peace & Commerce (CPC), a unique initiative that unites the School of Business and the Kroc School of Peace Studies. The CPC is building a more prosperous and peaceful world through innovative thinking and action directed at some of the world’s most urgent challenges. In this Impact series, this is the first ‘feeder’ to be featured in support of San Diego’s social enterprise ‘leaders’.

I recently spoke at length with Professor Amit Kakkad, Director, and Rachel Christensen, Assistant Director of the Center for Peace & Commerce, about the Center’s mission and method for launching changemakers.

Origin Story: The CPC was established in 2009 by Professor Patricia Márquez (who now serves as the Dean of the Kroc School of Peace Studies) as a “radical and unique partnership” between the School of Business and the Kroc School of Peace Studies. This collaborative effort was justified by the following sentiment on CPC’s website: “We need new models of business and new paradigms of peace to reach our global goals.”  The center is now run by Kakkad and Christensen, who are driving CPC’s next stage of growth.

Establishing and Sustaining Support: The CPC receives staff and facility support from USD, a private, non-profit institution. Financial costs of CPC programming are mostly covered through funds raised from companies, foundations, and individuals. However, CPC now earns about 20% of its annual budget through revenue generating activities, which the Center has been growing significantly over the last few years. In addition, local for-profit and social sector executives help CPC resource the students by serving as speakers, coaches, mentors, and judges throughout the year-long social innovation and entrepreneurship programming hosted by the CPC. Finally, a diverse range of organizations assist CPC through pro-bono support offered to students participating in CPC’s programming (such as the Global Social Innovation Challenge).

Real Life Prep: CPC’s leaders are motivated to do this work for personal reasons. For a Professor of Operations Management, Kakkad is exceptionally committed to shaping tomorrow’s citizens to think beyond themselves, employing what he calls “education with a purpose – teaching students to take what they love to do, what they are good at, and what they can get paid to do, and directing it all toward what the world truly needs.”

Christensen points to her family’s influence as a motivating factor. “I had an upbringing that took me across all sorts of borders and boundaries and divides in society and helped me see how much richness there is in diverse perspectives for innovation.”

Impact Measures: The CPC measures its impact by pointing to the difference they make for the student founders they serve. Even if a particular venture is forced to pivot, or even when a venture is no longer deemed viable, an investment in these founders will bear fruit in the future initiatives and career choices they make. According to Kakkad, “USD is a Catholic institution intent on nurturing global citizens. As such, we are particularly interested in helping our students evaluate their entrepreneurial intentions and value formation through their ventures; we are interested in holistic development – the competence and compassion of each student.”

What Does Success Look Like?: As evidence of the impact of their work, Christensen was quick to point to a recent 2017 graduate. “We worked with a founder, Charlotte, who’s venture MyStory is designed to build empathy on college campuses by hosting large events that serve as a platform for diverse stories to be shared. Our work with her opened up new networks, helped her change her identity from one of a student to that of a full time entrepreneur, and the milestones she met while competing in the Global Social Innovation Challenge set her up for her first year as a startup business. When she left our program, she had a business plan, a compelling pitch, a website, complimentary co-working space (Hera Hub), and seed funding. She has already become a sought-after speaker on campuses and podcasts across the country, and her influence and that of her venture continues to grow.”

Charlottte Vitak, a changemaker who started MyStory during her sophomore year in college.

Beyond individual stories, it has also been rewarding for the CPC to connect purpose-driven people, both locally and globally. “It has been fulfilling to work with students here and at universities in low-resource countries like Ghana and Colombia,”  Christensen says. “It is inspiring to see them keep in touch after the competition, making real the type of global connection for innovation which sustainable change requires. Our partners offer more wisdom and generosity to founders than we could ever hope to offer or ask for.”

Technology Challenges: Universities like USD rely on technology to support curricular and co-curricular efforts. According to Christensen, “We generally use simple technology (such as WhatsApp) which is effective given our work in international contexts such as those our student teams come from – Morocco, Ghana, Colombia.  This sometimes works better than more complex solutions, especially given bandwidth and electricity constraints in developing countries. We leverage CRM technology for judging submissions, for growing our global networks, and for keeping our stakeholders engaged.”

Additionally, some of the Center’s programming aims to encourage technological innovation for impact. “Thanks to some generous supporters, we now offer a wireless impact track that awards seed funding to students building a solution that leverages wireless technology.”

Rachel Christensen, Assistant Director, Center for Peace & Commerce.

Advice for Others Supporting Social Enterprise: Both Kakkad and Christensen offer the following advice for advancing such work: “We do incredible things when it doesn’t matter who gets the credit.”

Through innovative ventures like the CPC, USD has managed to reach across institutional silos and international borders to support changemakers. In fact, the Center’s Global Social Innovation Challenge has become a marquee event for those in San Diego interested in celebrating social enterprise on a global scale. It’s upcoming global finals award ceremony is open to the public, so please mark your calendars to attend Saturday, June 15, starting at 4 P.M. I’ll see you there!

Please add your comments below and let me know (carter.crockett@gmail.com) who you would like to have featured next.

Editor’s Note: “Impact”  –  a series brought to you by Carter Crockett and Fresh Brewed Tech –  features key insights from San Diego’s impact ecosystem, those with the grit to build a better world, one social enterprise at a time.


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