Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Social Innovation

The Community Development Law Clinic that I supervise recently agreed to become a partner in UNC-Chapel Hill's Social Innovation Incubator.  The Incubator will be a space on campus where student groups engaged in social enterprise and social innovation can get advice, capacity-building training, and back office support for their ventures.  If the ventures grow to the point that they can be sustainable charitable organizations, the Incubator will assist them with the process of forming and launching a c3 organization.  My law students and I will do some of the training and much of the legal work.

The concept is appealing for several reasons.  One is the simple fact that the Incubator may bring some order and reason to what heretofore have been unruly (but often effective) groups of students who have charged off the campus to do work in communities of need.  Too often they launch into their community projects blithely unaware of legal problems.  They conduct potentially high risk programs without insurance or waivers, they run finances through their personal bank accounts, and, as often as not, they make no plans for sustaining the organizations after they graduate.  The Incubator will provide support and guidance to help them avoid some of these problems.

There is, I believe, a potential downside to launching a campus based incubator.  Far too often, bright young men and women on college campuses -- thetypes who come to campus with prestigious fellowships that are supposed to groom them as future leaders -- are told that one mark of leadership is forming a nonprofit organization.  It's something they all seem to want on their resumes these days.  Predictably, many of the c3 organizations these "young leaders" form wither and die as soon as the young leaders graduate and move on to law school or business school.  Although the Social Innovation Incubator may prepare these impressive young folks for the legal (not to mention moral) responsibilities of operating nonprofit organizations, I fear that it may also legitimize the notion that all young people of promise and ambition ought to start one.



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