Innovating Change: Ursinus Students Learn Value of Social Entrepreneurship

A small group of Ursinus College students is learning that one innovative idea — no matter how small — can have a lasting impact on large communities of people.

In “Social Entrepreneurship and Social Change,” Jasmine Harris, an assistant professor of anthropology and sociology whose scholarship explores issues in race, class, and gender, is challenging students to think entrepreneurially about how to improve surrounding communities.

“I want to challenge my students so that they ask what their original ideas will ultimately do to help people,” Harris says. “I want them to think about how to be innovative while they’re also thinking about issues of social justice and social change.”

In the class, students are tasked with developing an original, feasible business plan that could directly assist a specific group of people, and to better understand the process of using entrepreneurial pursuits to address social issues.

The ideas include an addiction therapy center that uses yoga to help recovering addicts and their children; a music streaming platform tailored not only to independent artists, but to young people seeking a platform to share their art and hone their craft; and a medical device that encourages more preventive healthcare practices and allows for better access to doctors in communities that struggle with healthcare access.

“Before taking this class, I assumed entrepreneurship solely dealt with large, multimillion dollar companies,” says Alessandra Psomaris ’18, a media and communications studies major. “However, I’ve learned from Dr. Harris that social businesses have many entrepreneurial aspects, while still making a difference with the product or service that they provide for their target audience.”

Harris brings her own business acumen to the course. She is the co-founder of HuesBox, a business she started with her mother and sister, which is a subscription service that delivers personalized beauty items to women of color.

“I went to a liberal arts college, and many of the people I graduated with are now doing something on their own and not working for these big conglomerate organizations,” Harris says. “I think a liberal arts education teaches you to be self-sufficient and allows you to be able to synthesize what you are learning across all disciplines. That’s why this class is effective — it’s asking them to other flex muscles and explore issues and answer deeper questions. It teaches you to think critically in a lot of different ways.”

Students in the class are also required to intern at an organization whose core values align with a social justice issue. Harris also invites social justice entrepreneurs to speak to the class and share their own stories, including Hunter Vargas, who works for ROAR for Good, which focuses on sexual assault prevention, and Carolina Contreras, an Ursinus College graduate who established Miss Rizos Salon in the Dominican Republic and promotes tolerance and acceptance. 

“I think these students can foster social entrepreneurship in a way we haven’t really seen before,” Harris says. —By Ed Moorhouse