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Middlebury establishes Center for Social Entrepreneurship

January 9, 2012

Center will kick off with a symposium Jan. 25-27

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. — A new center devoted to supporting and teaching young social entrepreneurs — defined as those using the tools and strategies of entrepreneurs to bring about positive social change — has been established at Middlebury College.

“The Middlebury Center for Social Entrepreneurship (MCSE) will aspire to be a world leader in social change,” said Middlebury College President Ronald D. Liebowitz. “It will offer young people and their allies an opportunity to take on the world’s toughest 21st-century challenges and make a difference. As we launch this initiative, I want to acknowledge the generosity of Alan Hassenfeld, whose support has been critical in getting this center off the ground. A former CEO at Hasbro, Inc., Alan Hassenfeld has been a leader in corporate philanthropy over the long course of his business career.”

Social entrepreneurship occurs when individuals identify an unjust social outcome — the lack of access to water in an Afghan village; a “food desert” in the Bronx; economic and political barriers to the development of clean energy — and lead a creative process whose goal is the establishment of a more just outcome. At Middlebury, that vision has informed the development of Kathryn Wasserman Davis’ Projects for Peace, MiddCORE, the Project on Creativity and Innovation in the Liberal Arts, Education in Action, and the college’s participation in the Solar Decathlon. The college’s commitment to these projects helps explain why Ashoka recently named Middlebury as one of its changemaker campuses.

“It would be difficult to exaggerate the impact that the many projects carried out by our students over the past decade have had on their education and their sense of how they can make a difference in the world,” Liebowitz said. “Whether addressing global health challenges or designing and building a solar-powered house, our students are eager to find ways to apply what they learn in the classroom to pressing social problems around the world. I am confident that through the establishment of the CSE, our outstanding faculty and staff will have access to new cutting-edge resources designed to focus and direct our students’ passions.”

The center will be headed by Elizabeth Robinson, operations director, and Jonathan Isham, faculty director. Isham, Middlebury College professor of economics and environmental studies, will serve in a part-time capacity, guiding the development and implementation of student projects, establishing a set of “best practices” based in part on the ongoing research of Middlebury faculty, and designing training workshops. His new role is a natural extension of the work he has already been doing in a variety of venues, most notably the winter term course he offered last year, “21st Century Global Challenges: The Promise of Social Entrepreneurship.” Robinson, who heads up the college’s Project on Creativity on Innovation, will serve in a part-time capacity, ensuring that the work of the center aligns with other programs at Middlebury, and overseeing the day-to-day operations of the  center. Heather Neuwirth, a 2008 Middlebury graduate, will serve as associate director of operations and development for the CSE, and will oversee several student interns. The staff is headquartered in the Marbleworks in downtown Middlebury.

The MCSE includes three interrelated programs: grants, a lecture series and training workshops. Through each of these programs, the center aims to help high school students, college students and recent college graduates lead action-based projects designed to create a more peaceful and equitable world.

Jacqueline Novogratz, Acumen Bill Drayton,

The MCSE lecture series will involve partner institutions around the world, with the centerpiece a symposium each January at Middlebury. The first session will take place Jan. 25-27, 2012, on the Middlebury campus, and will be the kick-off for the center. Highlights will include an opening keynote speech by Bill Drayton, founder and CEO of Ashoka; an evening address in Mead Chapel by Jacqueline Novogratz, founder and CEO of the Acumen Fund; and a workshop led by Gordon Bloom, founder of the Social Entrepreneurship Collaboratory at Stanford and Harvard and now Dean’s Visiting Professor in Entrepreneurship at Princeton. The symposium will also offer Middlebury students and the public the opportunity to reflect on their future aspirations and to engage in hands-on workshops, led by top educators in this field.

The MCSE eventually expects to award about 300 grants each year, to high-school students, college students and recent college graduates. Those grants to high-school students will range from $200 to $500, designed to help them lead community-based projects. The grants to college students, from $3,000 to $5,000, will help them learn about systemic social change alongside more senior mentors. The grants to recent graduates, up to $10,000, will give them an opportunity to help create lasting 21st-century solutions. In its first year, the MCSE will award about 10 grants to recent college graduates to showcase the kinds of projects it will be seeking in the future.

Aspiring social entrepreneurs, including grant applicants and recipients, will be invited to attend training workshops at Middlebury’s campuses and on partner campuses. These workshops will give trainees the opportunity to reflect on their aspirations and to study best practices in the field of social entrepreneurship. The first training workshop is planned for June 2012 at Middlebury College.

For more information on the Middlebury Center for Social Entrepreneurship, contact Heather Neuwirth: 802.443.5961,

— Updated, 02/13/12