A year ago, Erskine College junior Jeron Crawford didn’t know much about social entrepreneurship.
Then last March, Jeron joined a contingent of eight Erskine students, faculty and staff who attended a Service & Social Entrepreneurship conference hosted by the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation, which provides scholarships and leads initiatives to encourage the study of philanthropy, service, and social entrepreneurship on college campuses.
The conference introduced students and their faculty counterparts to concepts of social entrepreneurship, using business practices to move beyond profit-making to effect systemic change and address issues like poverty and injustice. The ideas sparked Jeron’s keen interest and ended up leading him toward a deeper calling.
“I was hooked,” explains Jeron, whose already diverse interests have him pursuing a major in physics with a minor in music. “Social entrepreneurship is about innovation. It’s like a business and non-profit hybrid. Ultimately, what most separates social entrepreneurship from regular business development is the motivation of the innovator, thinker, or entrepreneur: what is their mission? Why do they get up in the morning?”
At the retreat, Jeron learned of an opportunity to follow his newly kindled passion: the Sullivan Foundation’s Service & Social Entrepreneurship Summer Institute in Huacas, Costa Rica. “I applied to study in Costa Rica, and got accepted.”
Getting busy, getting inspired
Over the summer Jeron studied and served as a student teacher in the program. Accompanying students representing a dozen colleges and universities affiliated with the Sullivan Foundation, he began his summer experience with a study of social entrepreneurship, including designing a theory of change, developing marketing and fund-raising strategies, and creating social business plans.
Once the coursework was completed, the students started their internships.
“People in this field have many different academic backgrounds,” Jeron observes. “Your academic background reveals your interests and provides avenues to draw out passion, skills, and insight.”
Describing his experience in Costa Rica, Jeron said he enjoyed the leaders he met as well as the other college students in the Summer Institute, calling them “really inspiring, smart, and well on their way to really making a difference.”
His Costa Rican students “were high-risk. For whatever reason, the students I worked with hadn’t completed their education. They spoke minimal English, making the task difficult because I am not fluent in Spanish.”
Jeron helped facilitate three classes a week for high school students on topics including business management and English language skills for the tourism industry.
According to the Sullivan Foundation, his team’s goal was to provide the Costa Rican high school students “with a strong foundation for successfully launching an ecotourism business by December 2012.”
In addition to developing social business plans for locally owned small businesses in and near Huacas, the Summer Institute participants assisted a youth summer camp through CEPIA, a Costa Rican non-governmental organization promoting culture, health, sports, and education for impoverished children, teenagers and their families.
At the end of the summer session, social business plans werepresented to CEPIA, community partners, and local residents.
Some rewards, some rethinking
Small businesses receiving assistance as a result of the students’ efforts included Harmonia Pura, a mobile spa operated by eight low-income women; GuanArte, a group of women artisans launching their own business; and a start-up ecotourism company spearheaded by high school students, the effort in which Jeron participated.
Back on the Erskine campus where he works as student marketing director for Erskine Athletics, serves on Judicial Council and sings in Choraleers, Chamber Singers, Fleetones and Gospel Choir, Jeron reflects on his time in Costa Rica.
“My experience was unforgettable and I wouldn’t change it for anything,” he says.
His summer of social entrepreneurship is an important piece of the puzzle Jeron is working on, renewing the effort to discern his calling while finishing his degree.
“As far as my career plans, there has been a possible shift,” he admits.
Learning more about himself and his true passions “ultimately will play a role in leading me to what I want to spend the rest of my life doing,” he says.
“I’m not exactly sure what the Lord has in store for me.”