School of Social Work invites campus community to learn about social entrepreneurship at inaugural conference

The Wayne State School of Social Work will host its first social entrepreneurship conference on April 6 from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Student Center on main campus. Co-sponsored by the School of Social Work Alumni Association Board, Wayne State’s student-led social innovation program OptimizeWayne, and the Wayne State student chapter of the Association of Black Social Workers, the event is free for Wayne State students and costs $10 for non-students. Pre-registration is required and space is limited.

“Social Entrepreneurship: The Emerging Role of Social Innovation and Social Enterprise in Southeast Michigan” has been organized by Social Work’s new Entrepreneurship Committee, which hopes to make the conference an annual event. It will begin with plenary speakers Jason Ball and Steve Wolbert, founders of the Flint-based Social Impact Philanthropy and Investment (SIPI), who will present “Defining and Advancing Social Enterprise in Michigan’s Legacy Cities.” Conference participants can then take advantage of two tracks, one exploring best practices of social innovation and enterprise and the other providing focused content on business planning and development for those wishing to start or grow a social enterprise.

The “best practices” track will feature area nonprofit leaders who are applying social entrepreneurial strategies. These include Maha Freij, deputy director of ACCESS, who during a panel presentation on “Enterprising Nonprofits” will talk about ACCESS’s Center for Arab American Philanthropy and its success in empowering Arab Americans to use their resources to address charitable causes across the U.S. and around the globe. The track will also feature Jayesh Patel, president and managing attorney of Street Democracy, which works to end the criminalization of poverty. During a panel discussion titled “Social Innovation Across Nonprofit, Commercial and Public Sectors,” Patel will discuss how Street Democracy is collaborating with other Detroit nonprofits and governmental officials to establish the Street Outreach Court Detroit.

Meanwhile, the track offering focused planning and development content will feature a presentation on business planning and tools by Aubrey Agee, senior program administrator of Wayne State’s entrepreneurial hub Innovation Warriors, as well as a workshop by Wayne State undergraduate student Limi Sharif, co-founder of the student-led social innovation program OptimizeWayne, featuring innovative ways to promote student social entrepreneurial aspirations, motivations and talents.

Social entrepreneurship has become a priority of the School of Social Work in recent years as it has worked to expand and strengthen its macro training, most notably through the revision of its M.S.W. concentration Innovation in Community, Policy, and Leadership (I-CPL). Adjunct faculty member Marijo Upshaw, who created and teaches the school’s new Social Entrepreneurship (SW 6991) course, said conference planners expect to attract a trans-disciplinary audience of more than 150 community professionals, alumni, students, faculty and staff who are interested in exploring this emerging field and how it relates to their professional interests and goals as change agents.

“The social entrepreneurship ecosystem in Metropolitan Detroit is growing,” Upshaw said. “We’re excited about bringing together people in our own backyard who are creating new ways to address unmet societal needs through social enterprise and experimenting with social innovation to achieve greater social impact. We also hope to attract persons who are just curious about social entrepreneurship and how it applies to their academic, professional and personal interests, as well as budding social entrepreneurs who are interested in gaining practical knowledge about how to start or grow a social change venture.

For more information and to register for the conference click here. For questions please contact Tamarie Willis at or by phone at 313.577.8019. 

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