Making students into social entrepreneurs


The Positive Entrepreneurs Network is pushing business schools in Belgium to pay more attention to positive and social entrepreneurship in their programmes

Inspiration Days in Brussels and Flanders

Business schools in Belgium would do well to focus more on teaching students to create social value and less on, well, business. That’s what the Positive Entrepreneurs Network says. And the organisation will soon kick off its campaign to help business schools better their ways.

Next week, the Belgian network of social entrepreneurs will organise its first-ever Inspiration Day at the Solvay Brussels School. Similar events will follow in Liège and Ghent over the next few months. With a special focus on final-year business students and a programme that includes conferences, panel discussions and workshops, the organisers want to promote social entrepreneurship in Belgium.

“We want to connect the key stakeholders in social entrepreneurship and give them the opportunity to share their vision and opinions,” explains Vincent De Coninck, the network’s co-ordinator.

The Positive Entrepreneurs Network was launched in 2010 by the non-profit organisation Poseco, the centre of action for a positive economy. Representing 100 companies across the country and across different sectors, it focuses on themes like responsible tourism, fair trade, eco-construction, environmentally friendly technologies and ethical financing. It relies on contributions from its members – most of which are small and mid-sized businesses – and subsidies from the Brussels government.

The Positive Entrepreneurs Network is partnering with business schools Solvay and HEC Liège and the University of Ghent for Inspiration Days. Every school will host 12 interactive workshops with social entrepreneurs and what the organisers call “key actors in positive economy”.

“By building bridges between entrepreneurs and the academic world, we seek to demonstrate that social entrepreneurship has a potential for growth and innovation,” De Coninck says. 

What is a “social entrepreneur”?

But what exactly is a “social entrepreneur”? Essentially, it’s a start-up that tries to create and sustain certain social values. They operate across different kinds of organisations, commercial ventures, non-profits and hybrid concerns. 

This aspect of entrepreneurship was rather marginal in the courses

- Vincent De Coninck

While the term is relatively new, the concept isn’t. “A well-known contemporary social entrepreneur, Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank, was awarded the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize,” says De Coninck.

Just like traditional entrepreneurs can create and transform entire industries, social entrepreneurs can act as change agents for society, explains De Coninck. They seize overlooked opportunities to improve systems, to invent and spread new approaches and to advance sustainable solutions that create social value. Social entrepreneurs aim to generate social value rather than just ever-bigger profits.

“We felt that this aspect of entrepreneurship was rather marginal in the business schools’ courses,” says De Coninck. “So we sought ways to inform future business people about the possibilities to start their own business according to their own principles and ideals.”

During the workshops, seasoned social entrepreneurs will tell students about the challenges they experienced, the difficulties they tackled and the social impact they hoped to have. The entrepreneurs will also explain how they managed to combine social impact with sustainable businesses. And business schools will be business schools. “Of course, they will also talk about the figures,” says De Coninck.

Antwerpenaar Bart Weetjens, founder of the Tanzania-based Apopo, which trains and develops rats to detect landmines, is among the social entrepreneurs participating in the workshops. The conference panel participants include Marek Hudson, business ethics professor at the Free University of Brussels (ULB), and Serge Raicher, co-founder of the European Venture Philanthropy Association.

The Inspiration Days website is only in English for the time being, but the Brussels workshops and conference will mainly be held in French. De Coninck says they will soon launch a Dutch and French version of the website. The March event in Ghent will be largely in Dutch.

3 December
Solvay Brussels School
Franklin Rooseveltlaan 21