A new fellowship at the University of Virginia expands affordability and access to hands-on work experience for students interested in the rapidly growing field of social entrepreneurship – the use of innovative business techniques to solve social problems. Launched in the winter of 2016, the Royster-Lawton Fellows in Social Entrepreneurship this summer provided six inaugural fellows a $3,000 scholarship, internship-matching assistance and one-on-one career coaching.
Spurred by a generous donation from UVA alumna Jill Royster and her husband, Drew Lawton, the fellowship is designed to ease the financial burdens that may prevent students from taking high-quality internships at emerging social enterprises that are unable to offer them a competitive summer salary.
“We didn’t want students to have to choose between getting life-changing summer experience with a world-changing social venture and paying for books the next fall,” said Christine Mahoney, a professor in UVA’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy and director of Social Entrepreneurship at UVA. “We thought it was important to make it financially feasible for students from any economic background to explore the career they are passionate about.”
The inaugural group of Royster-Lawton Fellows used their summer internships to approach social entrepreneurship from a variety of different angles, getting experience in different business styles designed to help communities across the commonwealth and the world.
Following their internships this summer, UVA Today caught up with four of the fellows to find out what they learned on the job.
Erica Fink: Class of 2017, Global Environments & Sustainability Major
Fink minored in social entrepreneurship at UVA and saw the Royster-Lawton Fellowship as a way bolster her professional experience in it before beginning her career.
“I’ve always been interested in design, and through a mix of design thinking and sustainability courses at UVA, I began to see business as a real tool for solutions to social and environmental challenges,” she said.
With the help and advice of donor Jill Royster, Fink was able to further pursue her interests through an internship with COMMON, a creative accelerator and community for more than 120 social enterprises and projects.
In her role, Fink assisted members of the COMMON community with strategy and promotion and worked generally to help expand community membership.
“I don’t think I would have known about COMMON without this fellowship, and I feel really lucky,” she said. “I think I’ll always want to work for enterprises that have social and environmental responsibility at their core.”
Conner Healy and Mark Ferguson: Class of 2017, McIntire School of Commerce
Healy and Ferguson both completed fellowships at the Community Development Venture Capital Alliance this summer, but it wasn’t the first time they’ve delved into social entrepreneurship together. The 2017 graduates are co-founders of the UVA organization Profit with a Purpose, an educational student group that provides opportunities for its members to learn about impact investing through a practitioner’s lens.
“Our group partnered with various funds in New York, Richmond and D.C. to bring impact investing to Grounds and showcase it,” said Ferguson.
Their experience on Grounds proved to be a helpful precursor to their internship at the Community Development Venture Capital Alliance, a network for funds that offers consulting services, conferences, workshops and technical assistance to its members.
“Mark and I are researching a lot of different funds to figure out which ones could potentially be the next step in a strategic expansion for the alliance,” Healy said.
He explained that their work for the alliance taught them both a lot about the intricacies of the social entrepreneurship space and what kind of work gets counted as a clear social good and what doesn’t.
Healy and Ferguson, who took positions with different consulting firms this fall, said that their fellowship has helped them think about ways they could bring elements of social entrepreneurship and impact investing into careers at any company.
Katherine McGinn: Class of 2019, McIntire School of Commerce
McGinn interned with Ashoka, an Arlington-based social enterprise devoted to supporting and nurturing new “changemakers,” people seeking to improve their communities through social entrepreneurship.
“Ashoka enables social entrepreneurs and networks to take on problems around the world,” McGinn said. “That includes things like funding individual social entrepreneurs or supporting schools that encourage the traits that make changemakers. They do a lot with schools and governments around the world.”
At Ashoka, she worked with the impact evaluation and finance teams, measuring the success of their primary school programs and helping analyze stipend distributions around the world. McGinn’s experience opened her eyes to the opportunities available in the social enterprise sphere.
“Especially after this year, I really see social entrepreneurship as a viable opportunity and not just something you can do on the side,” she said. “I’m really interested in impact investing, and now have made contacts in that space.”
As McGinn and the other inaugural fellows reflect on their internships, Mahoney is looking forward to the continuing impact of the fellowship on its first participants and the future participants who will follow in their footsteps.
“I hope they learn how rewarding it can be to be working with a financially sustainable venture and having an important positive impact on the world every day,” she said. “Additionally, if they’re the type of student that is interested in starting their own social business one day, I hope that they learn what great organizational culture looks like, how to set up processes to inspire and incentivize everyone on the team to perform at their best and that you often need to roll up your sleeves and be ready to dive in to tackle whatever challenge arises.”