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Echoing Green president speaks at UNC on social entrepreneurship

Despite the sobering topic of her talk — the struggle of entrepreneurs in rapidly changing times — Cheryl Dorsey spoke with an evident enthusiasm Monday for social change and entrepreneurship in the face of a bleak economic climate.

Dorsey, the president of Echoing Green, a pioneer in the social entrepreneurship movement that has funded more than 500 projects in 40 countries since 1987, visited the FedEx Global Education Center to deliver a talk titled “The Social Entrepreneur’s Dilemma: Creating Change in Turbulent Times.”

As president, Dorsey said she looks for “the next great leader with the next big idea” who is ready to present solutions for social problems worldwide. Past Echoing Green fellows include Teach for America and the mentoring program City Year.

Dorsey, who received a Echoing Green fellowship herself in 1992 for her organization The Family Van, spoke of the importance and history of social entrepreneurship and notions such as “demography as destiny,” the idea that the ZIP codes people are born in have a significant role in determining their path through life.

In an economy where students are struggling to find the most promising post-collegiate career path, Dorsey said Echoing Green experienced a 167 percent increase in applications for fellowships, a phenomenon she attributes to a generation of millenials, or people born after 1980.

“These millenials have this constellation of characteristics and qualities that have allowed you to take up this mantle of social entrepreneurship,” she said.

Dorsey’s work with social entrepreneurship reinforces UNC’s call for innovation and social change, said John Kasarda, the director of the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise.

“With these pressing environmental and social challenges, we seek to answer the chancellor’s call to pool resources at this University to address the issues facing the world today,” he said.

Dorsey identified local examples of social entrepreneurship in Nourish International, which co-sponsored the talk along with Innovate@Carolina. Greg Randolph and Justin Loiseau, co-chairmen of Nourish International’s UNC chapter, introduced Dorsey and related her work back to their own efforts on campus.

“We’re excited to collaborate because we believe that our theory of change is reflective with the same approach Echoing Green takes,” Randolph said. “The solutions to the greatest problems come at the community level.”

Sophomore Jordan Meer said he heard about the talk through his corporate finance class and attended because, as a business major, he recognizes the importance of businesses sparking social change.

“I wanted to get a better understanding of the social entrepreneurship climate and how financing social startups can do good things,” he said.

Despite the recession and the turbulent times Dorsey addressed, she assured the audience of the growing power of social entrepreneurship amid times of financial and political issues.

“In these times when you turn on the news and feel fairly bleak, I am actually very optimistic about what’s to come,” she said. “These graduates are thinking about their place in the world and have the innovation to drive development.”

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