Social Entrepreneurship

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

What is social entrepreneurship and how does it fit with social work?  

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 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 entrepreurship and social work's core values. Those values as expressed in the profession's Code of Ethics include meeting 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.

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, Adjunct Faculty, Social Entrepreneurship Instructor

Committee Members:


Shantalea Johns (co-chair), Marijo Upshaw (co-chair), Richard Smith (member), Jana McNair (philanthropy advisor), Charise Coats (MSW, 10', alumni member), Tamarie Willis (member), Dominique Golden (student member),  Limi Sharif (student member, co-founder of OptimizeWayne)


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 co-chair Shantalea Johns at or at (313) 577-4463.

Upcoming events:

Social Work Start-up Story Night
Wednesday, March 20, 2019
DNR Outdoor Adventure Center
(formerly the Globe Trading Co - 1801 Atwater St, Detroit, MI 48207)

Social Work Start-up Story Night will curate a group of select social work entrepreneurs from Metro Detroit to share their start-up stories with an audience of social work students, alumni and community members. This event will celebrate social worker's contributions to community betterment, promote social work's unique role in social entrepreneurship and create awareness of entrepreneurship opportunities for students, alumni and community members.  

2nd Annual Social Entrepreneurship Conference at Wayne State University
Friday, April 5, 2019 
Mike Ilitch School of Business

Detroit's social entrepreneurship ecosystem is rapidly expanding, and the Wayne State School of Social Work is helping lead the way. This conference brings together people from our own backyard and beyond who are creating impactful new ways to address unmet societal needs through social enterprise and innovation. The School of Social Work, in partnership with the Mike Ilitch School of Business and student-led social innovation program OptimizeWayne, is hosting the second annual Social Entrepreneurship Conference on April 5, 2019 at the newly built Mike Ilitch School of Business. The conference will highlight local social change agents who are addressing root causes of social problems and working with communities to build inclusive, replicable and sustainable models that will address these challenges.

This conference provides a great opportunity for you or your organization to reach a substantial audience of budding and current social entrepreneurs. We expect to attract a trans-disciplinary audience of more than 300 community professionals, alumni, students, faculty and staff who are interested in gaining practical knowledge about how to start or grow a social change venture.


Build Social Work: 9-week Business Planning Course
Thursday evenings 6-9 pm, March 7 – May 2, 2019
Wayne State University

Have you ever thought of starting a business that addresses a social problem or provides an unmet need in the community? Then you might be a social work entrepreneur. Would you like help understanding how you might turn your idea into a 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 10-15 social workers. You'll leave the class with a completed business plan, and the knowledge and confidence to take your idea to the next level.

The course will take place on Thursday evenings from 6-9 pm throughout March and April 2019 on the campus of Wayne State University in State Hall. The price for the course is $350. Limited space is available. Registration is limited to professional social workers. To register, click here or contact Shantalea Johns at the School of Social Work at Wayne State University at (313) 577-4463 or for more information.

Helpful links:

Coming soon.