Last March the launch of the Center of Social Impact Learning (CSIL) brought social enterprise into a new light on campus. Now, the center is branching out and adding more events and programs through a new, entirely student-run group called M-Force.
Feeling a desire to increase student involvement at the center, graduate assistant Kenji Tabery MAIEP ’16 launched M-Force, termed “the student arm of CSIL,” in September. The group now includes around 40 students who are actively involved and meet every month. Though Kenji initiated the group earlier in the semester, he sees himself as “more of a facilitator” than a leader. Many of the students have developed their own independent projects and view the group as their closest support network and sounding board.
Sophie Dresser MPA ’16, who also works as a graduate assistant at CSIL, is a great example. She has taken charge in leading a microfinance project to create a fund for small business owners in Salinas. Sophie was inspired by Stockton Impact Corps, a similar project that Jerry Hildebrand, director of CSIL, started through University of the Pacific.
The idea of this project is to eventually create a nonprofit that will be run entirely by community members, independent from the Institute. The fund is being set up to offer micro-loans, amounts ranging from $500 to $5,000, with $10,000 for exceptional cases, to small business owners or those looking to start their own business in Salinas. The funding would be used for investments ranging from a new vacuum cleaner for a cleaning business, to improved distribution for a produce packaging business to distribute their fresh foods. This kind of project is intended to help people who don’t qualify for or don’t know how to apply for traditional loans, and otherwise wouldn’t have the means for their businesses.
Though they are reaching out and making contacts within the community this year, it’s likely to be another year before the fund is put into effect. “With this kind of project, it takes a long time to go about it, and it takes even longer to go about it in the right way,” Sophie says. “It’s important to build a project like this from the ground up, with input from community members, rather than imposing our solutions on them.”
In addition to working on their own projects, members of the M-Force support CSIL in its outreach efforts, including helping to organize the Millennial Speaker Series. The largest event this semester was a panel discussion in November titled “B Corps: People Using Business as a Force for Good,” that sparked a conversation in the community that is still ongoing. “We want to find inspiring leaders that have successfully launched projects in health care, education, business, and environmental conservation,” Kenji said, illustrating the broad scope of social enterprise. “There’s a lot behind the curtains of social entrepreneurship.”