This fall, USD solidified its position as a bellwether in developing innovative, socially minded curriculum and programs by announcing a landmark partnership with global nonprofit association Ashoka. Known for its groundbreaking work in the field of social entrepreneurship, Ashoka shares USD’s commitment to finding solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.

As a member of the Ashoka U Changemaker Campus consortium, USD joins a select group of colleges and universities from across the country that, through a combination of education, research and service opportunities, have established themselves as hubs of social innovation.

USD Magazine sat down with Center for Peace and Commerce Director Patricia Marquez and Center for Community Service-Learning Director Chris Nayve, co-chairs of USD’s Changemaker Hub, a campus-wide effort to connect the university’s various changemaking intiatives, to get their thoughts on what this designation will mean for the Torero community.

Q:What exactly is a social entrepreneur, and why is developing social entrepreneurship opportunities so important to the field of higher education?

Marquez: Social entrepreneurs are innovators. They look to solve society’s major social issues by changing the system, spreading the solution and getting buy-in from the community at large to implement their solution. It’s important that they be ambitious and persistent in their efforts to affect wide-scale change, because a lot of what’s going on right now isn’t really working.

Nayve: Social entrepreneurship opportunities develop from new ideas, new research … new approaches to the social issues that define our times. Change will come — has to come — from the next generation of leaders, and those leaders are coming from engaged and progressive academic institutions like USD.

Q: A lot of people out there have no idea just what an Ashoka Changemaker Campus is. Can you shed some light on that?

Marquez: An Ashoka Changemaker Campus is a hub of social innovation. What we’re trying to do here at USD is support the efforts of entrepreneurial students and faculty from all around campus; distill their research, strategies and practices into functional problem-solving solutions, and share those solutions with the wider global network that Ashoka connects us with.

Nayve: It’s about opportunity. Taking what we have and connecting with other practitioners and innovative thinkers that are part of the changemaking world.

Q: What are the benefits of USD becoming an Ashoka Changemaker Campus?

Marquez: It gives us the opportunity to plug into other campuses who share our vision for building a better world. There are people who say they are active and involved in a process, but, when push comes to shove, you really see that their level of commitment doesn’t match yours, or what’s necessary. I know that all the members of the Ashoka Changemaker Campus initiative aren’t just talking about how they can make the world a better place; they’re out there on the ground making it happen.

Nayve: One of the main benefits that the designation of a changemaker campus provides is global recognition for all of the work USD has been doing that’s been geared towards improving the human condition. It says USD has an environment committed to this work, and it connects us with all of the changemakers in the Ashoka organization — not just the colleges and universities — who share our passion, and can, through the establishment of mutually beneficial relationships, help us expand our influence.

Q: Do you have short- and long-term goals for the implementation of this initiative?

Marquez: In the short term we’re looking to bring all the key stakeholders from across the university community together and develop best practices for the implementation of the initiative. It goes nowhere without the energy and support of our faculty, students and staff.

Moving forward, I think we’ve got a real opportunity to emphasize the value of social innovation in our curriculum. We want to engage faculty in educating for social change, and to deliberately build in incentives for them to design new, and revise existing courses to integrate social change learning objectives.

Nayve: We’re also looking to really celebrate this achievement, and it truly is an achievement to be named as part of this initiative. Providing students with the tools to solve the world’s problems is something USD has been committed to since our founding, and this initiative really supports that.

Q: It seems that, in order to utilize Ashoka to its full advantage, you need to get everyone across campus to realize how important it is. How do you go about doing that?

Marquez: We want buy-in across campus. We’re doing an inventory of what’s going on around the university — what are our strengths, what we can really market as our selling points to other members of the Ashoka U consortium — but, we’re really just conveners, facilitators in this process. We’re looking to present our data to the stakeholders here on campus, and really have them help plot our course as to what we can accomplish.

Nayve: The process of engaging folks starts at the very beginning. Everyone has a stake in what this means to USD. If we can get people to see the value and importance in the message we’re trying to promote as a university, no contribution is too small.

Q: Being an Ashoka Changemaker Campus is about collaboration with other universities and organizations. What does USD bring to the table?

Marquez: We’re a small enough campus that we can work across academic disciplines to develop programs and pedagogy like the Social Innovation Challenge, which rewards USD students for developing innovative social ventures and projects that support the four Ps: people, planet, profit and peace. Our university-wide commitment to change was,
I think, something that resonated with the Ashoka fellows who visited our campus earlier this year.

Nayve: I think our biggest strength is what people in this field refer to as ‘needle-moving change.’ I think the university has made tremendous strides both locally and globally in affecting positive change with microfinance programs like the San Diego Microfinance Project, which has helped small businesses ranging from construction companies to jewelry designers recover from the downturn in the economy as well as support local community development. Internationally, we have microfinance programs in place around the world, but it’s not all about microfinance. We’re supporting entrepreneurial programs in underdeveloped countries in Africa, our school of nursing’s efforts to promote health care programs all over the world … that’s just the tip of the iceberg around here. Our collaborative approach really puts us on the map as a school that has promoted change. We’re definitely ahead of the curve.

Q: What are your personal aspirations for USD’s Ashoka initiative?

Marquez: As a university, I want to ensure that we serve as an enabling environment where every individual has access to the resources, learning opportunities, role models and peer community needed to actualize their full potential as changemakers.

Nayve: When I first got the news, I was really excited. Some of the Ashoka fellows are doing amazing work around the world. Having access to the people who are
literally changing the way our global community approaches social reforms can only make us better. I’m thrilled about the opportunites available to us.