2012 Conference Overview

Dr. Muhammad Yunus and UNC President Tom Ross with Pennies 4 Progress, winners of the 2012 UNC Social Business Competition 

Five hundred people from across the state – UNC students, faculty and staff plus community members – gathered, listened, spoke and competed at NCA&T State University this month for the first-ever UNC Social Business Conference.

The September 27 conference, keynoted by 2006 Nobel Peace Prize Winner Professor Mohammad Yunus, asked student teams from across the UNC system to identify community problems, then take a business-oriented approach to solving them.

The conference and student competition is consistent with the new strategic planning effort the University is undertaking, noted UNC President Tom Ross, and helps emphasize the sorts of graduates the state will need to be successful in the future:

“We need students ready to think and do,” said Ross. “Ready to dream and execute. Students who understand what is currently known about their disciplines or chosen professions, but who are also committed to and capable of understanding how to adapt and thrive through the next transformation -- and the one after that.”

Students coming out of universities also have an obligation to solve the problems facing their communities and the world, noted Professor Yunus, who created the concept of social business. “This generation has a power that no other generation has had,” he said at the event. “You need to use that power to start solving problems.... Anyone can do it. It doesn’t have to be a big thing; even if it takes five people out of unemployment this has helped their lives.”

Social businesses sit in a space between the three traditional sectors of the economy: for-profit businesses, nonprofit businesses and government. They seek to make progress in solving community problems, as do nonprofits and government, but they also seek to do it in a way that is not dependent on tax payments or grant funding. Unlike traditional forprofit businesses, social businesses reinvest profits into the enterprise, enabling them to grow and sustain the business over time.

That makes social businesses a viable “fourth sector” for North Carolina, noted NC Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco: “These enterprises pay real wages to real people. They don’t replace our other sectors, but they need to be part of the mix,” noted Secretary Crisco. To do that, he noted, “They have to help us create jobs, they have to move us closer to solving community problems, and they have to find revenue to keep themselves going.”

31 student teams from all 17 UNC campuses developed proposals that they hoped would both solve community problems and be self-sustaining. Students worked with faculty and staff beginning last spring, then with mentors from TiE Carolinas and the SBTDC, to develop plans that built off their knowledge of a wide variety of disciplines, and observations to address community problems related to food and agriculture, energy, job training and retraining. Some examples:

· Using videogames to retrain unemployed people;

· Improving the efficiency of the market for used medical equipment to make sure underserved markets get exactly the equipment they need;

· Rebranding a struggling rural community’s downtown area to improve economic performance;

· Using aquaponics to turn fish waste into plant food, or recycling hog waste;

· Creating a market that allows homeless people to sell their art.

During the conference, teams made preliminary presentations in front of small groups of judges, selected from across the state and the nation for their experience in community engagement and business. Judges moved forward to the finals student groups from Ellizabeth City State, Fayetteville State, NC A&T, NC State, UNC Chapel Hill, UNC Greensboro and Winston-Salem State. After final presentations in front of the entire room, NC State’s “Pennies for Progress” team finished first, followed by a plan from Fayetteville State, a proposal to convert biowaste, with UNC- Chapel Hill’s recycled medical equipment proposal finishing third.

The NC State proposal http://www.pennies4progress.org, outlines in detail a strategy for retailers to donate one penny of every purchase to supporting nonprofit work, thereby relieving nonprofits of some of the challenges of fundraising (see a summary of this plan and others here).

The UNC Social Business Conference was sponsored by the Norman Macrae Foundation, TiE Carolina, SBTDC, UNC General Administration and NCA&T State University. Those organizations, along with the judges and participants, made it an event to remember. As judge Patrick Woodie of the NC Rural Center put it, “The single biggest take away to me is that BIG impact ideas start small, and that small efforts can sometimes have a BIG impact.” Now there’s a challenge: which small ideas take root, grow big, and make a difference?




2012 Social Business Competition Winners

pennies youtubeCongratulations to NCSU’s Pennies 4 Progress, winners of the 2012 UNC Social Business Competition! 

Spotlight: Sanitation Creations

2012 winnersCongratulations to second runner-up Sanitation Creations for joining the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network! For the full story, click here.

Featured Press

WRALSee Todd Cohen's WRAL Techwire story: 'Social business:' Taking care of business by caring, not taking