George Lucas Educational Foundation
Service Learning

Social Entrepreneurship: 7 Ways to Empower Student Changemakers

Tap into students' heartbreak to discover how they want to change the world, and the power of social media will launch them toward great accomplishments.

Tired of disheartened girls thinking they didn't match up to the divas on teen beauty magazines, Grace Miner started Real Girls Matter. The group has a state-wide conference in Rhode Island next year.

When six-year-old Joshua Williams wanted to give ten dollars to a homeless man, his young eyes opened to the plight of the hungry. Joshua, now 13, runs Joshua's Heart to feed the hungry in Miami. On his website, Joshua says: "Whenever I work, I will give some of my money to help."

And the stories go on. Whether it is wells in Africa or standing against genocide, today's students are more than willing to tackle big problems. Their social media prowess and passion can make them an unstoppable force -- when they want to be. (Can you say Ice Bucket Challenge?)

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How can we unleash more social entrepreneurs? How can we empower more students to make a difference?

Aaron Maurer's students in Bettendorf, Iowa created a dream team to act on their heartbreaks.

1. Encourage Each Student to Map Their Heartbreak

Each child has a strength and talent -- a "genius," if you will -- that he or she can add to make the world a better place. Empower social entrepreneurs by sharing stories of students taking action, and then encourage students to find their own passion. Angela Maiers, educator and founder of the burgeoning Choose2Matter movement says:

DO NOT follow your heart to find your passion and purpose. Instead follow your heartbreak . . . Finding your passion; surrendering to your heartbreak is really about finding what really moves you.

Ask students to share what upsets them and makes them angry. Draw it. Write it. Speak it. But by all means share it! Aaron Maurer‘s students created heartbreak maps.

Social Entrepreneurship Tip: Ask students to create a heartbreak map.

2. Help Students Find Their Voice

I first met Zak Malamed, the bright-eyed founder of Student Voice, in 2012 at ISTE in San Diego, while he was still in high school. The year before, Zak and some friends converged on the #edchat hashtag speaking out for students. Soon #stuvoice -- a weekly chat about student views on education -- emerged.

Fast forward to ISTE 2014. Student Voice’s nonprofit status was approved as several of us drove with Zak to dinner. A movement started up when he spoke up!

Social Entrepreneurship Tip: Encourage students to converse with a wider audience.

3. Empower Social Media Sharing

Since the path from hashtagging your heartbreak to nonprofit status seems faster than ever, digital citizenship is part of any social entrepreneurship movement. Writing is more important than ever, but it isn't your old five-paragraph, third-person essay. Social entrepreneurs need to create impassioned, first-person, hyperlinked calls to action.

Students need blogs, websites, and YouTube channels to share with the world and research skills to vet truth from fiction. Savvy schools create these platforms and have empowering conversations with students about digital citizenship.

Social Entrepreneurship Tip: Empower social entrepreneurs with social media and digital citizenship savvy.

4. Encourage Students to Tell Their Story to a Wider Audience

But not all students need a movement. Michael just wanted other students to understand his autism. Teacher John Lozano worked with Michael to tell his story in the video My Name is Michael. John says, "If he told the story [to just his class] it would only be the people in the class who got to see it. So that's when the idea of the video happened."

Social Entrepreneurship Tip: Help students craft and edit video to tell their stories.

5. Foster Student Generosity

The students at Clarkstown Central School District were afire. Their cry on Facebook? "Every woman needs a voice, especially one with so much to say." Led by teacher Jennifer Cronk, students raised over $5,000 overnight for their classmate Lanie, a student with cerebral palsy who needed a new mobile eye tracking device to help her speak again. Jennifer worked with Lanie's mom to set up a Facebook donation button so Lanie’s fans could donate. As the students proclaimed, "Vikings take care of their own."

Social Entrepreneurship Tip: When you see students rally behind a cause, set up donation platforms to let them contribute and help make it happen.

6. Connect Students to Powerful Role Models for Change

Desire is not enough. Students need a plan. Olympic bobsledder Steve Mesler helps students connect with Olympic and Paralympic athletes in training through his Classroom Champions program. Students need practical guidance on goal setting, persistence, and action to make dreams happen. "They [students] have discovered that dreams come true through perseverance and determination," says Robyn Thiessen, an upper elementary teacher in British Columbia, about Classroom Champions.

Social Entrepreneurship Tip: Help students create a plan.

The Classroom Champions videos (like this one from Paralympic athlete Jerome Singleton, Jr.) are some of my all-time favorites because they are from Olympic athletes who are training right now.

7. Integrate Social Entrepreneurship Into Your Curriculum

Pauline Roberts developed a new course for fifth graders. Entitled Sciracy, the action-centric course combines science, literacy, and sustainability. Her Detroit students work with businesses to understand their needs and promote eco-friendly sustainability practices. This award-winning program is being scaled up school-wide, as it integrates social studies and literacy standards while empowering positive change (and engagement).

Social Entrepreneurship Tip: Integrate social entrepreneurship into core curriculum.

Social Change Starts Here

We inherit the future we inspire today. Do we want helpless handwringing when hard problems emerge, or do we want impassioned leaders to stand up and take action? Social entrepreneurship is not an extra -- it is an essential.

Perhaps students don't like to write because we're not unleashing their heartbreak. Perhaps they don't like math because the numbers they're working with don't add up in a meaningful way. When students are passionate, they are engaged. When students are empowered, they are unstoppable. Unleash our students to change the world, and we might just see the change we want in education happen at the same time.

How have your students taken action? Tell their story, empower us all, and let's start a powerful resource right here in the comments of this blog post!