Accelerating Social Entrepreneurship in the Finger Lakes region
What if the poverty cycle could be broken? What if every community had its own set of entrepreneurs that solved community-specific social problems with innovative action? How could Social Entrepreneurship flourish in the Finger Lakes region? These were some of the questions dealt with in the Finger Lakes Social Entrepreneurship Institute’s public event: “The Promise of Social Entrepreneurship: Creating a Local Economy that Works for Everyone.” With a panel of speakers consisting of Svante Myrick, Ithaca Mayor, on social entrepreneurship; Kirby Edmonds, Training for Change Associates and Dorothy Cotton Institute fellow, on the Building Bridges Initiative; Anke Wessels, CTA Director, on transformative action; and Jan Rhodes Norman, Local First Ithaca and Ithaca BALLE, on building local economies.
Luckily for me, I had the opportunity to hear these panelists talk and answer questions from the audience on how to implement the ideas they posed. Anke Wessels started off the talk by defining the frame-work for social entrepreneurship – initiating and executing an entrepreneurial venture to address prevalent social problems such as poverty, lack of education, racism, stereotyping, lack of nutrition and other such social issues. Wessels stressed that we attempt to address such issues with a fresh mind and an entrepenurial go-getter spirit to ignite social change. Kirby Edmonds spoke about his Tompkins county Building Bridges initiative and how it was helping close the diversity gap and encourage people from different backgrounds to work together to solve social problems. It struck a cord in me when he remarked how there existed a significant segment of the Ithaca population in Cornell that wasn’t even an active part of the regional community and its social problems.
Jan Rhodes Norman then related how addressing core social issues would help in building a sustainable local economy that would prosper. This inspired me, as a Cornell student, to begin thinking of ways to help address some of the local issues found outside of the microcosm that is Cornell. Finally Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick finished off the talk by speaking about how restructuring land use – by allowing poor, rich, and middle class people to live and work near each other would revive the economy and would solve many of the social ills present today as it would force people from different segments to understand each other and it would lead to more business in a centralized area. Detailing his own childhood living in a housing project, Myrick explained how, he was limited because of the dearth of opportunities available in his neighborhood and vicinity.
Through the speeches made by the panelists and the questions posed afterwards by an audience of Social Entrepreneurs-to-be, I realized that entrepreneurship breeds more of the same, and in the case of social entrepreneurship, even one person who takes the initiative can inspire more to follow in his or her example, bringing about social change. Throughout the talk, various ideas for addressing the issues at hand through utilizing the wealth of resources Cornell has popped up in my head. I will definitely think of trying to implement some of them in the near future to hopefully make a lasting change in the community.