Social Innovation Education: Nurturing the social self over the entrepreneurial self
21 Jun 2021

Social Innovation Education: Nurturing the social self over the entrepreneurial self

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21 Jun 2021

Neoliberalism ‘has become so incorporated into the culture of western liberal-democratic societies, that few people ever think about it’(1) , which has resulted in people thinking that enterprise is more important than intrinsic value(2) .

The basic neoliberal values of humans existing to compete in the market, the prevalence of individual responsibility and personal gain, the moral duty of making oneself
employable and acceptance of a social elite of neoliberal entrepreneurs as ‘a good and necessary social group’ 3 over a ‘non-market underclass’ that cannot contribute 4 continue to dominate the economy and society. This has only been challenged relatively recently through examination of the self as someone other than an entrepreneurial being (5 ), questioning entrepreneurial identity 6 and the rise of Social Enterprise (7 ).

Thus, traditional Enterprise Education (EE) was created and continues to function in, a climate where neoliberal values underpin thoughts and practice (8 ). This is compounded by an antiquated UK education system (9) acting in isolation from the wider context of a fast-paced economy where young people change jobs more frequently 10 yet are unable to prepare accordingly due to a lack of parity with economics, business and enterprise education (11) . If EE is to keep apace it must not only react to but, more importantly, contribute to a more social economy. This cannot be achieved overnight, like the neoliberal economy was not instigated overnight (12) , hence small, bottom-up efforts through alternative educational approaches can help to destabilise the neoliberal system.

Changing needs call for Social Innovation Education

Social Innovation (hereafter SI) is defined by The Young Foundation as:

new solutions…that simultaneously meet a social need (more effectively than
existing solutions) and lead to new or improved capabilities and relationships
and better use of assets and resources. In other words, social innovations are
both good for society and enhance society’s capacity to act. (13)

Galloway et al (14 )found that young people are more interested in jobs in the charity or public sector than they were 10 years before, and in Noreena Hertz’s survey of 2,000 young Americans ‘92% believe helping others is important and 70% cite inequality as one of the issues that worry them greatly’ (2016). Hence, it seems that the emergence of Social Innovation is reflected in young people’s changing job inclinations. We need to cultivate innovators with attitudes, values, skills and passion to drive collective responsibility, equality and social gain in a collaborative environment as part of companies’ underlying philosophies. A bottom-up approach through helping children develop these values could inject this axiologically grounded mentality into businesses, react to the mindsets of young people and equip them with the ability to have a positive impact on our neoliberal society.

SIE making a move away from neoliberal values – handing over control

NEMESIS has developed and trialled Social Innovation Education (SIE), an educational approach linked to the Sustainable Development Goals 15 . To achieve these, future generations need to learn how to approach these issues in a sustainable way, thus SIE uses the goals for inspiration, offering a comprehensive approach to enable SIE to permeate schools’ curricula and society’s ethos for long-lasting impact. SIE also addresses the shifting mindsets of young people, the changing nature of the economy and the neoliberal focus of EE. The Social Innovation competences, that have an underlying philosophy of creating social value hence raising awareness of a non-neoliberal attitude and methodology, are vital in this pursuit. While some research highlights that the roots underpinning how knowledge is derived from experience are unclear (16 ), Lackéus found that experiential value creation pedagogy ‘achieved strong effects through the power of students’ passion for making a real-life difference to others and to society at large’ (17) . SIE harnesses experiential learning where children and adults from school and the community co-create a project, which has a real-world outcome, in Co-creation Labsto address an issue that is important to them. This collaborative experience provides students with an alternative approach as ‘young people may struggle to identify with hegemonic discourses of enterprise’ (18). SIE is flexible and inclusive hence it can be tailored to a wide variety of educational contexts.

Traditional EE heralds neoliberal values as it guides people towards their entrepreneurial self to unleash ‘the potential of human nature’. This furthers the neoliberal idea that the entrepreneurial self is the best self and the idea of human capital over human beings, which precludes and discourages alternative identities being explored. Alternatively, the philosophy of SIE makes it clear that collaborating and helping oneself and others, never just oneself, is the aim and, furthermore, attempts to teach young people to think deeply and critically analyse their own practice and beliefs so they can decide for themselves who they want to be, rather than being forced to fit into a preconceived paradigm

Autonomy, empowerment and authenticity are elements inherent in the development of the entrepreneurial self. In the current system they support neoliberal values through autonomy being dictated by the ruling structure, empowerment being bestowed by those in power and authenticity focussing on the self. Neoliberalism perpetuates these human drives to the continual detriment of society and within this system EE ‘makes more of the student’s thoughts, feelings and values available for control’. SIE undermines this through handing control over to students thus empowering them and providing an external focus for their interests and efforts. Autonomy, empowerment and authenticity are not easy aspects to alter because they involve critically analysing, reflecting upon, revising and putting into practice the values and philosophies underpinning all thought and action. Frederiksen and Berglund discovered this difficulty when conducting research on identity work in enterprise, but this was with university students. NEMESIS attempts to address this by introducing SIE practice to students at a younger age and by providing opportunities to put it into action to effect real, purposeful, memorable change.

Jen Wall, UK

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