Duke University is widely recognized for its pioneering leadership in social entrepreneurship education, having provided essential and important legitimacy for the field by producing and facilitating academic research that has defined, informed, and advanced the field, and having delivered high quality courses to undergraduates and graduate and professional students eager to learn about the field.

Through the Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative, we are building upon and extending the strengths of the university to create a transformational learning environment to inspire, prepare, and support entrepreneurial leaders and scholars to turn knowledge into action in pursuing innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.  Through this initiative, we aim to achieve the following outcomes:

  • Duke students are motivated and prepared to exercise direct influence through their ideas, choices, and actions, on social problems throughout their lives;
  • Academic researchers advance the frontiers of knowledge on social innovation and entrepreneurship, and related fields; contribute boldly to the international community of scholarship; and take action upon discoveries and fundamental insights for the benefit of society; and
  • Innovative, entrepreneurial organizations have the human capital, knowledge, tools, resources, and supportive ecosystems needed to achieve increased effectiveness, sustainability and scale of impact.

Through this initiative, we aspire to have an impact on ALL Duke students, graduating a much larger cohort of students with the motivation, creativity, problem-solving skills, leadership abilities, entrepreneurship skills, empathy, and sense of self-efficacy for a life of innovating and leading social change, regardless of their chosen profession or career.

We invite you to learn more about social innovation and social entrepreneurship at Duke!

What is social entrepreneurship?

Although many definitions of social entrepreneurship exist, our approach is guided by the pioneering work of our colleague and departed friend, Prof. J. Gregory Dees.  As he described in his widely-cited essay, “The Meaning of Social Entrepreneurship,” and subsequent writings, social entrepreneurship is the process of pursuing innovative solutions to social problems.  More specifically, social entrepreneurs adopt a mission to create and sustain social value. They relentlessly pursue opportunities to serve this mission, while continuously adapting and learning.  Social entrepreneurs act boldly, not constrained by resources currently in hand.  They hold themselves accountable for achieving the social mission and use resources wisely.  They draw upon the best thinking in both the business and nonprofit worlds and operate in all kinds of organizations: large and small; new and old; religious and secular; nonprofit, for-profit, and hybrid.

What is social innovation?

Social innovation is a novel solution to a social problem that is more effective, efficient, sustainable, or just than present solutions and for which the value created accrues primarily to society as a whole rather than private individuals.  (Stanford Social Innovation Review, Fall 2008)

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Why is Duke emphasizing social innovation and social entrepreneurship?

The magnitude and complexity of today’s global challenges requires a more robust, diverse, and talented cadre of social entrepreneurs, change-making leaders, and scholars who are prepared to tackle them.   The emergence of social innovation and entrepreneurship as critical fields in confronting complex issues of social, economic and cultural development is a preface, not an anomaly.  Duke maintains its traditions of engagement and excellence, and fulfills key tenets of its mission, by recognizing these fields for what they are, and leading the way in their application, at the same time leading the way in re-imagining higher education for the 21st century.

With world-class schools in public policy, business, medicine, law and engineering, enhanced by exceptional undergraduate curricula, Duke is a repository for the best teaching, the best learning, and the best ideas.  An international network of alumni leaders and thinkers extends Duke’s reach to all corners of the globe, in virtually all pursuits.  Given Duke’s pioneering leadership in social entrepreneurship education and research, its growing strength in commercial entrepreneurship, its signature commitment to civic engagement, and the university’s fundamental dedication to “Knowledge in Service to Society,” Duke has a unique opportunity, and perhaps the obligation, to bring these vast intellectual resources together to cultivate responses and approaches to society’s most complex social issues.

A small cadre of Duke faculty has already blazed the trail in social entrepreneurship education, having provided essential and important legitimacy for the field by producing and facilitating academic research that has defined, informed, and advanced the our understanding of social entrepreneurship and having delivered high quality courses to undergraduates and graduate and professional students eager to learn about this emerging area of study.  Over the next five years, with careful investment in current assets and strategic expansion, we believe Duke can become even more widely recognized as the premier institution of higher learning for aspiring entrepreneurial leaders, social innovators, and scholars driven by an outrageous ambition to make a difference in the world.

How are social innovation and entrepreneurship integrated into Duke I&E?

As a cross-cutting emphasis, social innovation and social entrepreneurship are integrated into the Duke I&E strategy through a broad-based effort to engage faculty, students, and staff from across Duke—with linkages to alumni, entrepreneurs, policy makers, and funders—to extend excellence in teaching and to innovate in the way we learn from and support social entrepreneurs, philanthropists, public officials and business leaders to achieve wide-scale, sustainable positive impact, especially in the areas of health, economic development, the environment, and education in our community, across the nation, and around the world.  In particular, we seek to:

  1. Spur continual program innovation and growth, and increase multidisciplinary collaboration and integration, where deemed beneficial, of relevant programs across the university.
  2. Increase and support faculty members offering high impact courses on social entrepreneurship and related topics, and assist faculty members in integrating social innovation and entrepreneurship as a pedagogical tool into relevant courses in other disciplines.
  3. Increase access to leading social entrepreneurs for research initiatives, internships and applied learning opportunities, special events and, possibly, executive education.
  4. Engage and motivate the next wave of Duke faculty to contribute credible, practical research on social entrepreneurship and related topics.
  5. Increase Duke’s role as a collaborative leader in working with other universities, think tanks, foundations, government agencies, and professional networks focused on social innovation and social entrepreneurship.
  6. Contribute actively to efforts to define standards for SE learning outcomes, high quality curricula and best-in-class social entrepreneurship and change-making leadership teaching techniques.

How can I get involved?

As described above, Duke I&E seeks to engage faculty, students, and staff from across Duke—as well as alumni, community leaders, entrepreneurs, practitioners, policy makers, and funders.  As a starting point for engaging with Duke I&E, please browse the resources and links on this website, introduced below.  If you would like to learn more about how to get involved, we encourage you to contact us and arrange for a discussion.

For more information, please contact Katherine Black (katherine.black@duke.edu.) or Matt Nash (mnash@duke.edu).

What resources can I access through this website?

On this website, you will find information about and links to a wide variety of resources, including:

  • Social Entrepreneurship Accelerator at Duke (SEAD)—Learn about our new, cross-Duke initiative for scaling innovations in global health, funded through a $10 million grant by the U.S. Agency for International Development .
  • Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE)—Access the programs and thought leadership of one of the world’s premier centers for social entrepreneurship research and education, based at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business.
  • Programs—Learn about co-curricular programs associated with Duke I&E as well as other centers and initiatives around the university.
  • Clubs, Competitions and Conferences—Explore a wide variety of other opportunities for students on campus, across the country, and around the world.
  • Resources—Access informational resources on social innovation and entrepreneurship, available both through Duke and other thought leaders in these fields.
  • Research—Access research initiatives and relevant resources on social innovation and entrepreneurship at Duke and beyond.
  • News and Events—Stay up-to-date on announcements and upcoming events relevant to Duke community members interested in social innovation and entrepreneurship.
  • Duke Social Entrepreneurs—Browse (and contribute!) profiles, interviews, news clippings, and other coverage of Duke students and alumni social entrepreneurs.

Social Entrepreneurship at Duke Overview


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