According to the book Ice Cream Social: The Struggle for the Soul of Ben & Jerry’s by Brad Edmondson, “[b]usinesses are the most powerful institutions in the world, and they could become the world’s most powerful forces for social change.” This notion from Ben & Jerry’s created the idea of a social venture, a for-profit company created to advance social change.
This idea of a social venture sparked my interest in the class “Designing Social Ventures” that I took my sophomore year at Grand Valley as my Junior Seminar through the Honors College. Being a newly-declared business major and coming from a not-so-business background, I thought that this class would allow me to explore exactly what a social venture was, and give me insight into what possibilities that I had in a career that’s typically full of people trying to make as much money as possible.
The class did just that, as well as gave me many more skills that I was not aware that I would learn, nor fully realize that I would use, until now. This is a notion that many of us feel in the Honors College, and at school in general. Professors assign us different projects and tasks which at the time may not seem valuable, but in fact turn into something that will help us for the rest of our lives. This was one of those classes.
We began the class by discussing what “dialogue” truly means. A dialogue is not just a discussion, and it is especially not a debate. Instead, it is a conversation in which the members of a group get to know one another on a deeper level, and each person in the group speaks based on their learned experiences. The group sits in a circular form and there is typically not a facilitator. At the time, I did not fully understand this type of dialogue because, in the course of the class, we simply read about it in a book and tried in class once or twice. It was frustrating to me because it just seemed like busy work and something that I would never use.
Today, in my role as an intercultural mentor, in my role as a Resident Assistant, in my role on Student Senate, and even in interactions with my friends, I use this strategy all of the time, and am now able to fully understand the skills that my professor attempted to teach me two years ago. Speaking based on learned experiences is something that has proven to be so incredibly helpful in a time of divisiveness and differences of opinions. This is one of the many other skills that I learned in this class that I now use all of the time.
As far as exploring the idea of a social venture, this is something that still sparks my interest. In class, we discussed many times what types of companies were truly social ventures and which companies were not. Many companies try to exhibit the idea of corporate social responsibility, but how much of the company’s profits need to go towards social justice in order to be considered a social venture? This provided enriching discussion as a class and, like I said, is still something I think about often, especially going out into the real world with a corporate job soon.
This class also provided the opportunity to give back to our Grand Valley community. We split into four groups as a class, each of us working on a different social issue related to Grand Valley. I was split into a group to create a 5K race that would directly benefit the food pantry that is on Grand Valley’s campus as well as spread awareness about what the food pantry does. This process to plan a race, work in a group full of different personalities and perspectives, and keeping the purpose as the focal point was quite an experience. In the end, we had over 50 people attend our race and we were able to actually design what we considered a social venture. All of our proceeds were donated to the food pantry and we truly did have a fun race. It felt like we really did make a difference.
The Honors College at Grand Valley has given me so many opportunities and experiences such as this one that have helped me learn skills that ended up being critical in my development as a college student and as a person in general. I now have found how important it is to me that a corporation has a greater social mission than simply gaining profits, as well as how important it is to incorporate dialogue into every conversation that we have to truly understand one another. The Honors College does this and so much more for its students. Find out what it can do for you by joining today!
Ella Fritzemeier is a senior studying Finance and Economics with a minor in Spanish. She loves serving the university through being President of Student Senate and a third year Resident Assistant. When Ella has spare time, she enjoys running, watching The Office, and hanging out with her friends. She is looking forward to graduating in April and moving forward with her career at Whirlpool! Go Lakers!