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Swarthmore College Student Priorities

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At Swarthmore College, we have experienced an apparent lack of opportunity for socially minded entrepreneurs. As such, we will be working with faculty, students, and other institutional partners to develop Swarthmore’s new Social Innovation Lab. The following individual projects will all be operated within the Social Innovation Lab.
Note: We believe we have failed if only Swarthmore students and faculty are using the Innovation Lab. Therefore, community engagement is essential to our mission.

Strategic Priority #1 (Omri): Incentivise Swarthmore students to engage in social entrepreneurship and innovation

Given Swarthmore student’s passion for social change, there is immense potential to harness this energy and channel it towards social innovation. Currently however, the entrepreneurial ecosystem at Swarthmore does not provide enough opportunity (or incentive) for students to engage in social entrepreneurship/innovation.  

Project: Social Innovation FellowshipThe Social Innovation Fellowship is broken down as follows:


  • Internal stakeholders - I will be facilitating design-thinking workshops for student groups and faculty committees on campus. I have already facilitated a design-thinking session for the faculty/student committee on Student Health and Wellbeing, and there is increasing institutional interest in participating in these workshops.
  • External stakeholders - entrepreneurially minded non-profits/other organizations in surrounding Swarthmore area (mainly Philadelphia and Chester). I have already established numerous relationships with these external partners (most of which work with youth), all of whom are excited at the prospect of engaging with Swarthmore’s Innovation Lab. I will be working with these organizations to host either workshops or events focused on design-thinking, presentation/pitching techniques, etc.

Short term student engagement

  • Students will enroll in ‘Entrepreneurship Fieldwork and Internship’ (half-credit), which will last for 6-8 weeks. They will be paired with an internal or external stakeholder, and work with them on a specific project.
    • Ex: For students interested in film and media studies, they could be paired with a non-profit partner in Philadelphia that provides youth with equipment and skills to make their own films. The student could potentially serve as a mentor for 6-8 weeks, while also providing additional resources/information to help the organization.  

Social Innovation Fellowship

  • Students will enroll in Professor Denise Crossan’s Social Entrepreneurship in Principle and Practice course (1 credit). The course will cover the fundamentals of design-thinking, and other innovative tools/techniques. Students in this course will then have the option to be paired with regional or international stakeholders. Professor Crossan and I (faculty head of the Social Innovation Lab), have already established partners in:
    • Northern Ireland
    • Columbia
    • Japan
    • England
    • Spain
    • Iraq
  • A potential future spinoff would be that these students would then receive funding to travel to their respective partners, and engage in a summer internship in which they would be able to continue their project

Ultimately, I believe that attracting more students to participate in the growing social innovation initiative on campus revolves heavily around credit. Being able to receive credit, while engaging in an applied learning project, is something that entices many students.

Strategic Priority #2 (Natasha): Make Entrepreneurship Tangible
It is really important to us that “social entrepreneurship” is more than just a nebulous idea at Swarthmore. We want to go beyond the buzzwords, and give students an opportunity to actually apply all that they learn about design thinking. During the Stanford course, we have really appreciated the focus on prototyping - we plan give Swarthmore a workable “prototype” of a successful social enterprise on campus.

Project: Student Run Social Enterprise - Environmentally Sustainable Cafe
We plan to launch a student run, environmentally sustainable café inside the social innovation lab. We plan to serve coffee, tea, espresso, and baked goods out of a small part of our makerspace. The café will be fully managed by students, with a focus on environmental stewardship--we will use all compostable materials and source our food locally and sustainably. Many new buildings are being constructed in the northern part of campus with no food nearby, so we hope that the café will serve an emerging need. When we talked to students about our idea, there was a lot of excitement around the café - there is no good coffee on campus, students told us, and they are really excited that the café is going to have an environmental focus.

We already are in communication with Therese Ton, a student baker selling her products at local stores, and Ben Stern, a coffee aficionado on campus.

Strategic Priority #3 (Mariam): Develop spin-off opportunities to support more mature entrepreneurs at Swarthmore College by nurturing student enterprises/groups/projects/student groups using Impact Investing
Need: As a result of the Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship project mapping at Swarthmore College, we identified a dire lack of spin-off opportunities (3-5 years support plans) that would spur and scale projects that have survived the test of time.
The immediate need that we investigated is the scarcity of funding needed to scale the strategic and operational activities of a business/enterprise/organization/student groups that are past the initial forming stages of their venture.

Solution: Impact Investing Group
The goal of the Impact Investing project is to invest a fund (that will initially originate out of a grant/endowment from Swarthmore College). This fund will be initially invested by pro bono Swarthmore alumni investors while abiding by the social, governmental, environmental principles of Impact Investing. Over the course of a couple of years, returns on investments will be allocated to the spin-off fund that Swarthmore entrepreneurs can apply for. The returns generated from the investments will financially support more mature Swarthmore entrepreneurs at their spinout/scaling stages.
In parallel, students at the Swarthmore Investing club can gain educational and practical experience in investing by giving assistance to the pro bono Swarthmore alumni investors network. They will be the guardians of the Impact Investing fund. This educational partnership will secure a pipeline of socially minded-investors that are making returns for Swarthmore entrepreneurs.  

As a result, the Impact Investing project will not only educate future socially-minded investors, but it will also incentivize young entrepreneurs to prove themselves and gain access to spin-off funding opportunities. The Impact Investing project will therefore be a merit-based, socially-minded, and educational incentive for Entrepreneurship.

  • Swarthmore Finance and Investment Office: will be key in securing the initial grant and endowment for the Impact Investing project.
  • Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility: will connect mature Swarthmore entrepreneurs and project leaders to the Impact Investing project.
  • Center for Innovation and Leadership: will educate and nurture Swarthmore entrepreneurs and project leaders in their initial entrepreneurial stages.
  • Swat Careers: can be helpful in finding Swarthmore alumni who are willing to work pro-bono or train students on how to invest money.
  • Swarthmore Alumni Office: can be helpful in their outreach to investors who are in the Swarthmore alumni network.
  • Swarthmore Investment Club: will be exposed to best practices in Impact Investing. They will support and assist pro bono investors of the Impact Investing project. This educational experience will ensure the sustainability of the pro bono investor pipeline.

Strategic Priority #4 (Michelle): Make Entrepreneurship Collaborative rather than Competitive
As college students, we are often told that we have to do a million things, from balancing classes to athletics to clubs. On top of our immense workload, we are often fed the notion that we have to "find our calling" in the next 4 years. In the midst of all of these insane expectations leveraged against us, we often forget is that what we truly need is a mentor-- someone who is there to support us and cheer us on, no matter what we do.

Project: TriConnect - Peer-to-peer mentoring website
TriConnect is a mentoring website that helps students in the Tri-College Consortium (Swarthmore, Haverford, and Bryn Mawr) tap into the untapped network of mentors, aka the amazing students that attend these three esteemed colleges. Students start by creating a profile, listing all of their affiliations (majors, clubs, interests etc.) and what they can offer mentorship in and what they are seeking to be mentored in (i.e. a CS student looking for someone more involved in the Tri-Co entrepreneurship environment). Once a profile is created, they can reach out to other students on the network to set up meals, attend events together etc.

The Impact of “TriConnect”: By creating a platform that directly fosters peer-to-peer mentorship, TriConnect hopes to not only empower individuals, but also shift school culture from one that is hyper-competitive and often cutthroat to one that is more collaborative and supportive. We hope that this will lead to benefits in student mental health and physical well-being, all the while cultivating student entrepreneurship and innovation.

Related Links

Swarthmore College Overview

Swarthmore College Student Priorities

2017 Swarthmore University Innovation Fellows

Michelle Ma