Learning innovation

By Todd Cohen

America needs a helping hand.

Instead of swallowing business as usual, and ignoring change, charity and higher education must push the “invisible hand” that 18th-century economist Adam Smith said converted selfish actions into social benefits.

Dennis Young, a professor at Case Western Reserve University, says charities must embrace “social enterprise” that generates commercial revenue to support their social mission.

And to be effective entrepreneurs, he says, nonprofits need stronger financial and management skills.

Jim Johnson, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says social enterprise is critical for success in a fiercely competitive and global marketplace without borders and fueled by a rapid and rising flow of people and jobs.

Colleges and universities can help harness those economic and demographic currents by retooling themselves as change agents, Johnson says.

They must better tap an increasingly diverse population, he says, while transforming themselves into incubators for innovative strategies to address critical social problems.

And they must overhaul incentives and rewards to spur “high-impact applied or action-oriented research,” revamp the curriculum to equip students to be more innovative and civic-minded, and remake fundraisers as “academic entrepreneurs.”

For America to thrive, charity and higher education must change and lead.

Todd Cohen is the Editor and Publisher of the Philanthropy Journal.

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