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Innovation and Entrepreneurship program to launch DukeEngage in Detroit, new certificate

A new initiative is looking to expand Duke's commitment to social entrepreneurship.

The Innovation and Entrepreneurship program is responsible for spearheading the new DukeEngage program in Detroit, Mich. and a new certificate program in Innovation and Entrepreneurship. In the long-term, the Initiative hopes to help create new courses and opportunities for students interested in social entrepreneurship and capture more funding for student projects.

“Especially in the last five or 10 years, there’s been a desire for innovative approaches to social needs," said Matthew Nash, special project director for social entrepreneurship at Duke. "There’s just been a desire to draw upon business practices and business skills and civil society to address social problems, so this lack of satisfaction with current solutions has much to do with it.

Although Duke is home to several social entrepreneurship programs and fellowships such as the STEAM and Startup Challenges, the I&E Initiative is unique because of its regional and national vision. The project seeks not only to connect groups within the Duke community but also between social entrepreneurial groups in Durham, the Triangle region and other major universities.

DukeEngage in Detroit will be one of the Initiative’s first projects. The program—directed by Nash and Christopher Gergen, visiting associate professor of markets and management studies—focuses on developing creative enterprises to tackle Detroit’s social and environmental problems.

At a program information session Thursday, Gergen emphasized that students would have the opportunity to determine their own experiences, based on their varying strengths and interests. Rather than requiring students to choose from a finite list of community partners, directors would accommodate nuances in individual preference and interest, Gergen said.

“Instead of saying, ‘Hey, here are 10 organizations to choose from’, we’re going to say ‘Here are 100 opportunities’ and see what you want to work with,” Gergen said.

The I&E Initiative is currently in the process of developing a new certificate in Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship. As of now, the certificate will likely include four courses and two hands-on learning experiences. The certificate has not yet been approved by the Duke administration and specific requirements are still being determined. Nash anticipates that the certificate will be made available to students Fall 2014.

Despite being in the early stages of development, the project has already captured significant funding. In 2012, David Rubenstein—chair of the University's Board of Trustees and Trinity '70—donated $15 million to help catalyze the project. Rubenstein’s donation will help establish new programs and fellowships and enhance current ones. The U.S. Agency for International Development awarded $10 million in the same year. The ultimate goal is to capture $100 million in funding, Nash said.

An additional aspect of the initiative is the social entrepreneur in residence program. Maya Ajmera—founder of the Global Fund for Children and Sanford '93—is the first to hold the position. Ajmera made her first trip to the University as social entrepreneur in residence during the 2014 Winter Forum and expects to return for several days each month to advise and create opportunities for burgeoning student entrepreneurs.

“Just having that guidance and mentorship from someone who’s been there and done it before is important,” Ajmera said. “I’ll be in a couple days a month to help with students’ ventures, opening doors and advising faculty. There’s going to be a real opportunity for students.”

I&E Initiative leaders have cited the growing importance of social entrepreneurship in solving the world’s problems as one of the reasons for the project’s creation.

“I think there’s been broad recognition that the old structures and the old patterns aren’t keeping pace with the challenges—whether it’s in health, whether it’s in poverty, whether it’s in water, or sanitation—you name it,” Nash said.

Travis Britain, a junior and supporter of the project, said that the initiative would give students an opportunity to make an impact in a way that traditional volunteering organizations often cannot.

“What I think is the biggest opportunity coming out of the I&E Initiative, at the undergraduate level, is both an affirmation of Duke’s commitment to social impact, and going one step beyond that from a mission statement to actually empowering students to make a sustainable social impact,” Britain said.

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