The university hosted the Civic and Social Entrepreneurship Summit, where students presented business plans to improve their communities.
By Megan Reed
Cal State University, Los Angeles, performs community service throughout Los Angeles, so the school prepares their students for careers in civic engagement. One of many ways that these students can enhance the communities that they grew up in is to create businesses that are for the greater good of those neighborhoods.
“The point of this is to have them think entrepreneurially,” said Marla Parker, assistant professor in the Political Science and Public Administration department. “And also so that they know that civic engagement and getting involved with politics is not just about voting. It’s more than just going to public hearings, council meetings, or protests. Those things are very important, but it takes more than that.”
Parker organized the Civic and Social Entrepreneurship Summit where students were able to showcase their ideas for addressing important social issues. Students presented plans to address social inequality, budgeting for higher education, political engagement, school nutrition, parental involvement in K-12 schools, as well as other ideas.
“The next step is actually making this happen,” Parker said. “That means choosing an area, such as the Crenshaw district, and saying, how can we apply this solution to this area?”
The purpose of this summit was not just to make the students identify problems, but also to find solutions, and they actually apply those solutions to their communities.
“In so many courses, particularly in sociology, they learn about problems and why things fail,” said Dmitri Seals, professor in the Sociology department. “It’s time to think about how things can succeed. One of the things that we do is that we encourage our students to do needs assessments for their own local communities. They’ll interview their neighbors. They’ll ask about the problems that affect peoples’ lives, and they use that to generate solutions. The hope is that the students take those ideas as they graduate and turn them into things that are going to benefit the communities.”
Unfortunately, many communities do not receive adequate resources from the government.
“If the resources are not there from the government, where do you turn?” said Barney Santos, head of the school’s Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation. “You have to turn to the ingenuity and the resources from the people. Who’s best to create solutions for the community than the community itself? The community knows about the stakeholders. The community knows about the intricate problems that it’s facing. They have that internal wisdom that you need to create solutions. It’s extremely important because you can’t always lean on government to create the solutions for you.”
Santos stresses that it is important for people within the community to find ways to solve problems.
“By not having community ownership, it creates this gap that gets filled in by people who are opportunist from outside of the community,” he said. “That’s when displacement happens. In order to offset that, you want to see more local people have a stake in the game, who have ownership. You want people in the community reinvesting back into the community. You want to do that by empowering them.”
Parker is looking to bring this program to local high schools and middle schools in South Los Angeles areas.
“You’re never too young to start thinking like an entrepreneur, and combining that with your desire for change,” she said.