Duke University

Universities as Agents of Change | Matthew Nash

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What I am really excited about these days is reframing the role of the university to, the university as a socially entrepreneurial actor in training students by applying research to the most critical problems in society.”

In this podcast, the fourth in the series, we speak to Matthew Nash, a thought leader from Duke University.

Khemka Forum Podcast Series: Transcript of the podcast with Matthew Nash, Centre for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship, Duke University

Interviewer: Shivraj Parshad, The PRactice



Shivraj: Matt, thank you so much for speaking to the Khemka Forum on Social Entrepreneurship.

Matt: Well its my pleasure to join you.

Shivraj: Matt, You represent an institution that is really at the cutting edge of encouraging entrepreneurs of tomorrow, so how do you explain to outsiders what you are doing within the confines of a pedagogy?

Matt: Well first I should probably say our teaching, our education program here is really informed by our research and our outreach and field building. So as a centre our mission is really to advance the field of social entrepreneurship. In our field building we really bridge between our academics and our practitioners, getting from the theory to the true practice. So that work has everything to do with engaging practitioners, in learning communities, in informing our research, in executive education. So in our education of our students all of this underpinning our teaching and in our education we really focus on a few areas. One is we try to present to our students some of the key frameworks, processes and tools of social entrepreneurship. So in frameworks, I am thinking of understanding the ecosystem within which social entrepreneurs dwell, understanding the social and environmental problems that they are facing, the processes by which social entrepreneurs identify a need develops a business model that is relevant to the problem and the ecosystem in which they operate and has a revenue strategy to support that business model. And certainly another important element of what we do is add the inspiration element. By introducing students to successful social entrepreneurs and even those who have not been so successful , having them see the power of social entrepreneurship, and finally the importance of practice by engaging our students in experiential learning through courses such as global consulting practicum in social entrepreneurship, through experiential activities in other classes we try to get our students engaged in real life cases so that they can understand the true complexity that faces Social Entrepreneurs, nothing is as simple as a text book or article makes it sound.

Shivraj: Right Matt, so how do practitioners most effectively partner with institutions of higher education to achieve social change?

Matt: Well I think this is a critical issue if we are to advance the field of social entrepreneurship as a field of academic inquiry and as a field of practice. Both parties, academics and practitioners have so much to gain through collaboration with the other. On the one hand academics really need to engage with practitioners in order to gain the credibility that social entrepreneurs need as an academic field. And in the academia, the core of the realm data, the ability to do the analysis and synthesis needed to apply a disciplined study and so by engaging with practitioners we really need to have data on what’s working and what’s not working, understand the characteristics of the effective and ineffective social entrepreneurship and to be able to observe the field and that means on the practitioners side, I certainly hope they are open to engaging in surveys, focus groups, interviews , case studies and these kinds of things so that they are able to provide the data and most importantly share the failures as well as successes. Some times in the field of social entrepreneurship we get so wrapped up in celebrating the heroes and trumpeting their successes, we don’t understand that we can learn just as much from the many failures that are out there but are not commonly shared and I think on the practitioners side by engaging with the academics by which they can receive a partnership they can benefit from in achieving their missions. This comes from everything, from gauging students teams who are eager to apply the skills they are developing in the classroom to the live field situation. Also practitioners can request academics to share the results of their research, provide executive education , and help practitioners realise that the situation they may face is only one example and academics can see many many examples and draw upon broader theories of best practices, and I think practitioners can demand that academics provide that to them.

Shivraj: So Matt, when you deal with students getting into this space, how do you really equip them to rise to the challenge of embracing or be part of this very complex ecosystem that deals today with really burning problems of feeding, clothing and education millions?

Matt: Well I think there are a few things, and certainly part of it is ensuring that they have a tool set and an ability to critically reflect and analyse the problems and a wide variety of problems and understand root causes of social and environmental problems and ask the kinds of questions that they need to ask. But just as importantly I should say that we do not expect that many of our students will go out and be social entrepreneurs, actually on the contrary we would expect most of our students to pursue a wide variety of careers. Some of which may be in the field of social entrepreneurship or some serving as managers and team members for social entrepreneurs but many will simply go out and be business leaders and want to be change makers in their companies and may want to engage their companies with social entrepreneurs, so that tool set the skills is important. Another thing that is really critical is building the empathy, the humility, the appreciation, the deeper understanding needed so that they can truly become students of change. Remembers social entrepreneurship is just one tool set in a broader focus on what does one or how does one bring about social change. For students, that means having the understanding that they do not possess all the answers nor are they expected to. By listening, observing practitioners in action, reflecting, receiving feedback from practitioners so that they can alter their behaviours as students to be more effective. These are important understandings of concepts that really compliment the tools they are getting from the traditional lenses and frameworks of social entrepreneurship.

Shivraj: You have travelled the globe, witnessed different cultural contexts dealing with these issues, so what is really the potential impact of higher education truly embracing social innovation?

Matt: What I am really excited about these days is reframing the role of the university to…. the university as a socially entrepreneurial actor. Many universities are starting to realise that they too can play an active role as change makers both in training students by applying research to the most critical problems in society so that knowledge is in service of society. And as I travel around the world, whether it is at the Indian School of Business or at the Gordon Institute of Business Science for example in Johannesburg as part of the University of Pretoria or The University of Johannesburg or campuses across the States, what I am most excited about is seeing so many universities starting to embrace social entrepreneurship, social innovation and change making within their education programs and I think much of this is being led not by academics or the administrators but by the students themselves. I think today the students want to align their education and their careers with their values, they see unfortunately the previous generations are leaving them with much greater problems than the previous generations. Now here in America we often talk about the American dream and American way of life that if you work hard and apply yourself you will have a better life for your children than the previous generation, for the first time in many many decades that may not be true anymore and so the students today recognise that and want to have an impact.

Shivraj: You’ve attended the Khemka Forum for two successive years have you noticed somewhat of a change in the atmospherics at ISB. Do you see that perhaps what is happening there is poised for a much bigger thing?

Matt: Well first I have to say I am disappointed not to have to attend this year, I really enjoyed the participation I have had in the first two years and I certainly continue to be involved with the Khemka Foundation in advising and the design of the forum . Yes, I would say I have noticed an increasing sense of urgency and a need to get down to business. I think that there is a recognition that the social challenges and the environmental challenges we are facing today and that are certainly faced in India have the need for the field of social entrepreneurship to come into a more mature stage so we have a more robust ecosystem and when I say ecosystem I mean that the social entrepreneurs are part of a broader network, they exist in flows of financial capital, human capital, intellectual or knowledge capital, social and political capital and there is a need to build the intermediary institutions so that we can strengthen this as a field so that we can have a much greater impact and scale up the innovations to better meet the magnitude of the problems. So I noticed at the Forum an increased sense of the urgency to get down to business to create partnerships to take collaborative actions and to have an impact.

Shivraj: Alright Matt, thank you so much for speaking to the Khemka Forum on Social Entrepreneurship

Matt: Well it is my pleasure and I certainly wish all the participants a successful Forum, fruitful dialogue, meaningful action and I look forward to being engaged in the future and I should say on behalf of the Centre for Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship of Duke University it is our pleasure to be a partner of the Forum.


Views expressed here are solely that of the person interviewed and may not represent the views of The Nand & Jeet Khemka Foundation.