Building on Success: Social Entrepreneurship Institute

by Sarah Small

In 2006, Collette Niland wrote a grant proposal to the Chancellor’s Civilian Task Force, and the Social Entrepreneurship Summer Institute (SESI) was born. Now, four years later, Niland’s second grant proposal, this time to the Office of Public Engagement, has been approved, and the original SESI plan is growing.

“It’s completely transformed,” said Niland, executive director of the newly-evolved, Social Entrepreneurship Institute (SEI).

Until now, SESI has functioned as a summer program that welcomes community members involved in the management of non-profits to come to the University and learn from Business professors about how to better run their non-profits. The students involved in the organization also served as consultants for participating non-profits.

Thanks to the grant and four years of success, the program will now operate year-round and, with Illinois Extension as a partner, will reach out to communities throughout the state.

The institute will produce webinars broadcasted online, teaching lessons such as marketing, fundraising and volunteer management, Niland said. Directors of the regional Extension offices throughout the state will facilitate the webinars at local sites.

“The University is responsible for teaching, research and extension,” said Anne Silvis, extension specialist in program development for Illinois Extension. “Extension is about taking all of the information and knowledge generated at the University and making it available to everyone.”

Silvis said that Extension offices around the state already work with local non-profits in the area, and this partnership with the Social Entrepreneur Institute will build upon that network to provide more support.

Despite expansion, Niland said the overall objective of the institute’s evolution is to develop a home for students interested in social entrepreneurship.

“The idea to get people to think about doing business that can have a social impact,” Niland said. “The biggest goal is to provide a center for people interested in social entrepreneurship.”

Even as the institute expands domestically, Niland and student laureate Mark Paik have plans for an even bigger expansion.

“It’s expanding beyond what people are expecting of it,” Paik said. “It’s expanding on a national and international level.”

Paik is calling upon his international contacts to establish a foundation for the institute on an international level. The goal is for students at ILLINOIS and at other universities across the country interested in social entrepreneurship to be able to develop their own service ideas, and apply them domestically and internationally with the assistance of the institute.

“We’re making that connection and building bridges for students who want to do good, Paik said. “Basically, if you want to do something good, we’ll help you do it in any way we need to.”