As the son of a shop keeper growing up in the ‘coloured’ part of town who went on to start his own construction and catering companies and complete a PhD in social entrepreneurship, Dr. Paul Tai-Hing is ideally placed to talk about this rising phenomenon. Spending his childhood in the South African town Port Elizabeth and witnessing the lack of government investment that makes poverty a reality in many neighbourhoods across the city, a fire was lit inside him, which he has brought to his teaching programmes at Nelson Mandela University (NMU).
Over the past few decades increasingly more universities around the world integrate social entrepreneurship programs in their curriculum in efforts to bring authentic learning experiences to their students. Either through in-class instruction or hands-on projects, students in universities are building the skills and knowledge they need to tackle global and local challenges faced by the societies they live in. They learn how to work within complex environmental and social systems, beyond merely taking into consideration the economic environment in which they will start their businesses.
While the main objective is clear, the question remains: why does social entrepreneurship matter? Senior lecturer Dr. Hing is most probably one of the very few people who can answer this question earnestly, reflecting on his own experience with his students at NMU’s Department of Business and Economics.
With poverty a fact of life in the townships of Port Elizabeth, as in many South Africa cities, students achieving a place in the university system have the ability to become real leaders and make a difference in their communities.
To address this opportunity, Paul offers a project-based social entrepreneurship module to the first and second year Management students, through which they bring entrepreneurial solutions to the disadvantaged communities in groups. The series of student projects undertaken as part of the curriculum, collectively referred to as ‘The Sunshine Project’, span a period of three years. The project challenges NMU students to apply the more theoretical business course material they encounter in their studies in a social enterprise. Through these social enterprises, the students inject much needed resources into the various projects such as building a new primary school library.
In the first year of the programme, students form groups and are provided with a specific community development project for which they need to raise funds through entrepreneurial activity using their newly-learned sales and marketing skills. In the second and third years, they apply their project management and leadership knowledge by project managing the execution of the social project.
Since starting his social entrepreneurship module in 2012, Paul Tai-Hing has become one of the NMU’s best-known and highest-rated academic figures. As much as an influence on his colleagues through his innovative teaching methods, his strong personal network with Port Elizabeth’s local community including NGO’s, schools, and care centers puts his students at an advantaged position to identify the local needs and priorities.
Some of the most noteworthy first-year student project examples include Lwandlekazi High School, for which one of the teams raised a total of €5,250 with approximately €3,500 to be used to renovate the school – classrooms painted, floors repaired, electricity and light switches installed, ceilings built, and Kwezi Lomso High School where the students helped building a new school kitchen with €5,117 they raised to be paid for the construction work. Furthermore, each semester about 350 second-year management students participate in the program executing 35 projects to be addressed in local and regional NGOs.
The Sunshine Project clearly presents ample opportunities for students to make a lasting impact in their communities while gaining applicable skills and employment opportunities. With almost 90% employment rate for graduates of the programme, the projects have had positive effect not only on the Port Elizabeth communities, but also on the personal development of the students that have lasted until after their graduation.
Read more about the Sunshine Project case study here