Social Work conference focuses on the intersection of social enterprise, innovation, and criminal justice reform

UPDATE: In light of the CDC’s recommendation for social distancing, this event has been POSTPONED and will be held in Fall 2020.  Additional details will be forthcoming. Thank you for your continued support of the School of Social Work and we look forward to seeing you at a future event.

The Wayne State University School of Social Work in partnership with the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights, the Wayne State Business and Community Law Clinic, the Mike Ilitch School of Business, the Keith Students for Civil Rights, the Entrepreneurship and Business Law Society student organization, and the student-led social innovation program, OptimizeWayne, are hosting the university’s 3rd annual Social Entrepreneurship Conference on Friday, April 3 from 8:00 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Wayne State Law School.

This year’s conference will focus on the intersection of social entrepreneurship and one of the major social justice issues of our day, criminal justice reform. The conference will highlight local social change agents who are addressing root causes of mass incarceration and working with individuals, groups and organizations in our local communities to innovate solutions and alternatives to incarceration that promote justice and sustainable human, social and economic development.

Returning citizens commonly face both individual and structural barriers to finding and maintaining employment. Promoting entrepreneurship is an innovative strategy that supplements traditional workforce development models. The conference will feature social enterprises owned and operated by returning citizens, as well as systems entrepreneurship designed to disrupt the current criminal justice system including workshops on restorative justice, jail diversion programs and bail bonds reform.

Highlights of the conference include:

Morgan Simon, impact investing expert and author of Real Impact, will be discussing a social justice advocacy campaign she’s lead along with a group of high profile actors and former and current professional athletes to end the flow of financial capital to private prison corporations across the U.S,, and supporting impact investments in education, health and housing in neighborhoods and communities of color that have been disproportionately negatively affected by mass incarceration.


Gregory Fairchild, PhD, Associate Dean and Professor at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia, and his wife, Tierney Fairchild, PhD, co-founders of Resilience Education,” will be speaking about a national model operating at The University of Virginia and Columbia University that utilizes MBA student volunteers to teach financial literacy, business fundamentals, entrepreneurship, negotiations, job readiness and ethics workshops to persons who are currently incarcerated in state prison facilities.

Attorney and community advocate, Whitely Granberry, JD, from the Detroit Justice Center will discuss the Center’s work to end mass incarceration and promote economic development in marginalized communities including placed-based entrepreneurship.



Conference organizers expect to attract a trans-disciplinary audience of more than 250 community social entrepreneurs, corporate and business leaders,  social workers and other helping professionals, community advocates and activists, nonprofit personnel, funders and impact investors, alumni, students, faculty and staff who are interested in addressing criminal justice reform through a social enterprise and social innovation lens, as well as budding and current social entrepreneurs who are interested in gaining practical knowledge on how to start or scale a social change venture.

Attendees can select from afternoon workshops that highlight social innovation or business development workshops for social entrepreneurs including legal entity formation, business planning, marketing/social media, funding and resource development, and measuring social impact.  For a complete listing of the dynamic speakers and subject matter visit the conference registration page.

Marijo Upshaw
Marijo Upshaw, MSW, MBA

Fostering social entrepreneurship among students and other stakeholders is a strategic priority of the School of Social Work. Wayne State lecturer, Marijo Upshaw, who created and teaches the school’s Social Entrepreneurship (SW 7095) course and also teaches social entrepreneurship and impact investing courses in the Mike Ilitch School of Business, noted that field of social entrepreneurship has been shifting its priorities over the past few years. “It’s not just about starting social enterprises anymore,” Upshaw said, “Increasingly the field of social entrepreneurship is recognizing the importance of systems entrepreneurship.”  

Recognizing that criminal justice reform is one of the most important civil rights challenges of our day, the conference committee wanted to highlight social entrepreneurs both nationally and locally who are working to disrupt the system. “We’re excited about bringing together a diverse group of thought leaders, advocates and change agents who are raising awareness about the problem of mass incarceration and creating new ways to address structural inequities through social innovation and enterprise,” Upshaw said. “We hope to attract students, faculty, human service professionals, funders, business and civic leaders, and community members who are interested in criminal justice reform and how it intersects with social entrepreneurship, as well as budding social entrepreneurs who are interested in gaining practical knowledge about how to start or grow a social change venture.”

The event is $15 for Wayne State students and costs $50 for all others. Refreshments and lunch are provided. Pre-registration is required, and space is limited. Register here. For more information on the conference, please contact Marijo Upshaw at the School of Social Work at Wayne State University at 313-677-2885 or for more information. 

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