Social Entrepreneurship

New thinking about the power of business and entrepreneurship to affect positive social change can be found in the emerging field of social entrepreneurship. There is no standard definition of social entrepreneurship. Broadly defined, social entrepreneurship includes both social innovation (e.g. new services and products, new processes or new target markets) and social enterprise (e.g. applying business and entrepreneurship principles in the social sector including earned revenue strategies that further mission and social impact). Social entrepreneurs include enterprising and innovative change agents who use business band entrepreneurship knowledge, skills, and abilities to address with address protracted social problems like homelessness, poverty, and violence.  Social entrepreneurs desire to understand the root causes of protracted social problems, to leverage small efforts to produce maximum change through social enterprise and social innovation, to engage communities in solving their own problems, to attract impact investments, and to build replicable and sustainable models of practice. Social work scholars and researchers interested in this emerging field have noted the goodness of fit between social entrepreneurship and social work's core values. Those values as expressed in the profession's Code of Ethics include meeting the basic needs of people, empowering marginalized and oppressed communities, and addressing problems in living all of which are represented in the major tenants and practices of social entrepreneurship.

Social Work Entrepreneurship

Throughout our history as a profession, social workers have acted entrepreneurially starting new ventures whether they took the form of founding charitable organizations, government programs, or progressive social movements. Jane Addams who is widely regarded as the "Mother of Social Work" for her pioneering work in founding the Hull House Settlement House in Chicago that served the needs of the poor and marginalized immigrant individuals, families and communities has been recognized posthumously as a "social entrepreneur" by the Ashoka organization, a leading think tank for social entrepreneurship. Mindful of the many objectives shared by social work and social entrepreneurship, the School of Social Work at Wayne State University is meeting student demand for education and training in social enterprise and social innovation with the creation of a popular new course, Social Entrepreneurship (SW 7095).
"Social entrepreneurship at its core is about upsetting the status quo, and as such it aligns with social work's fundamental values about social justice and systems change," Marijo Upshaw, Adjunct Faculty at the School of Social Work and the Mike Ilitch School of Business. The Social Entrepreneurship Committee at Wayne State School of Social Work works to promote social entrepreneurship at the school, within the Wayne State campus and the wider community. Social entrepreneurship has increasingly become a focus within the School of Social Work as it has worked to expand and strengthen its macro training, most notably through the revision of its M.S.W. concentration Innovations in Innovations in Community, Policy, and Leadership (I-CPL). Read more about the committee's purpose and goals (pdf)

Upcoming events

4th Annual Social Entrepreneurship Conference at Wayne State University
Detroit's social entrepreneurship ecosystem is rapidly expanding, and the Wayne State School of Social Work is helping lead the way. Our annual Social Entrepreneurship Conference brings together people from locally and nationally who are creating impactful new ways to address unmet societal needs through social enterprise and social innovation. This year's conference will focus on the intersection of social entrepreneurship and food justice highlighting social enterprises and social innovation across food production, distribution, and retail operations. The conference is tentatively scheduled for April 2020. For more information, contact Marijo Upshaw at mjupshaw@wayne.edu 


Build Social Work

Do you want to start a private practice? Have you ever thought of starting a non-profit organization? Then you might be a social work entrepreneur. Would you like help understanding how you might turn your idea into a viable social venture? Then join us for a business and entrepreneurship planning course developed especially for social workers.
The Social Entrepreneurship Committee at the School of Social Work at Wayne State University wants to help you explore your social venture idea.  We are partnering with The Build Institute, a business development services organization based in Southwest Detroit that promotes equitable entrepreneurship, to offer aspiring and established social work entrepreneurs a customized business development training course called Build Social Work. Build Social Work is a non-credit course developed by the Build Institute that is available to any social worker interested in starting or growing a business with a social impact.
If you've ever contemplated starting a business or organization with a social mission purpose, this class is for you. The course will be taught by local experts and cover all the basics of starting a business or social venture. Our curriculum is a learner-centered, hands-on and activity-based, so you'll be doing as much as you'll be listening. We'll provide you with a Build binder that includes lessons, resources and a sample business plan for you to fill out as we go. You'll be exploring your idea with a supportive and caring cohort of around 15 social workers or other helping professionals. You'll leave the class with a completed business plan, and the knowledge and confidence to take your idea to the next level.

Class topics include:

  • Money Management & Life Skills
  • Legal Structures, Licensing, and Personal Budget
  • Personal Credit, Start-up Costs and Overhead
  • Sales Unit & Break-Even Point
  • Sales and Profit Goals & Cash Flow
  • Target Markets, Market Research & Mission
  • Research, Competition, Pricing & Goals
  • Financing Sources & Loan Process

"Build Institute helped me by providing peer support and hands-on exercises necessary for me to first determine whether our business idea was viable, and secondly, to put together a business plan." Kirsten Ussery, Detroit Vegan Soul

Limited space is available. The next Build Social Work class is tentatively scheduled to start in February 2020. For more information contact Marijo Upshaw at (313) 676-2885 or mjupshaw@wayne.edu.

Social entrepreneurship and social work

Throughout our history as a profession, social workers have acted entrepreneurially starting new ventures whether they took the form of founding charitable organizations, government programs, or progressive social movements. Jane Addams who is widely regarded as the "Mother of Social Work" for her pioneering work in founding the Hull House Settlement House in Chicago that served the needs of the poor and marginalized immigrant individuals, families and communities has been recognized posthumously as a "social entrepreneur" by the Ashoka organization, a leading think tank for social entrepreneurship. Mindful of the many objectives shared by social work and social entrepreneurship, the School of Social Work at Wayne State University is meeting student demand for education and training in social enterprise and social innovation with the creation of a popular new course, Social Entrepreneurship (SW 6991).

"Social entrepreneurship at its core is about upsetting the status quo, and as such it aligns with social work's fundamental values about social justice and systems change," Marijo Upshaw, joint-appointed Social Work and Business School Lecturer and Social Entrepreneurship Instructor

Committee members

From 2nd left: Tamarie Willis (member), Marijo Upshaw (chair), Lawrence Robinson (member), Shantalea Johns (member), Richard Smith (member). Not pictured: Student Chapter President: Tomiko Gumbleton

In the news

The Social Entrepreneurship Committee Wins a National CSWE Award

SEThe School of Social Work's Entrepreneurship Committee was awarded the SAGE/CSWE Innovation in Teaching Award for their work in promoting and advancing social entrepreneurship education and opportunities for Wayne State social work students. Established in 2017, the Entrepreneurship Committee distinguished itself within social work higher education by creating meaningful opportunities for social work students to explore the emerging field of social entrepreneurship through coursework, campus-based interdisciplinary collaborations, academic advising, and access to Greater Detroit professionals. Tamarie Willis (Academic Advisor), Dominique Golden (MSW Candidate), and Marijo Upshaw (Adjunct Faculty) accepted the award on the behalf of the committee at the CSWE Annual Program Meeting in Orlando, Florida on November 9-11, 2018. They were also able to present a model for adding social entrepreneurship curriculum and field placement opportunities to social work programs. Read More

Contact us

For more information about the Social Entrepreneurship Committee at the School of Social Work at Wayne State University, contact chair Marijo Upshaw at mjupshaw@wayne.edu.