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Laurier earns prestigious social entrepreneurship designation

University second in Canada to be named 'changemaker campus' by Ashoka U

Wilfrid Laurier University has been formally recognized as a global leader in social entrepreneurship and social innovation education.

The university was recently designated a Changemaker Campus by Ashoka U, a respected international association dedicated to the belief that individuals and organizations can be agents for creating positive social change. Laurier is only the second Canadian university to join the Changemaker Campus consortium. The Changemaker designation applies to all of Laurier’s locations, including the Waterloo and Brantford campuses, the Faculty of Social Work in Kitchener, and the Toronto office and weekend MBA program.

HEAR how Laurier is helping to change the world.

“We are honoured to receive this important designation,” said Deborah MacLatchy, provost and vice-president: academic. “Laurier has a long history of integrating academic excellence with experiential learning, social purpose and community engagement.”

The Ashoka philosophy is based on two related concepts: “social entrepreneurship” and “social innovation.” The first takes practices often associated with business — innovation, goal setting, the measurement of results, financial sustainability, and the creation of systems that can be scaled or extended — and applies them to address social needs and challenges. Social innovation involves the development of new strategies and novel approaches to addressing social needs and sustainability issues. For years, Laurier has strategically pursued an “integrated and engaged” approach to linking academic excellence with experiential learning, while also “instilling the courage to engage and challenge the world in all its complexity,” as the university’s vision statement says.

From co-op programs to community service-learning, Laurier has created a wide range of innovative learning opportunities for students. Some of the more recent initiatives include the LaunchPad entrepreneurship program; a social entrepreneurship option; a Social Innovation and Venture Creation strategy; the creation of “social innovation zones,” such as the recently opened Purpose Lab; the Community Engagement Option; a Master of Arts program in Social Justice and Community Engagement; and a growing range of Indigenous academic programs and support initiatives. The success of such programs owes much to the support of many external partners, including Bob and Myrna Schlegel, the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, and the Wilfrid Laurier University Alumni Association, among others.

Laurier’s Ashoka change leader for this important project is Joanne Benham Rennick, associate professor, Global Studies (Social Entrepreneurship), director of Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship, and director of Laurier’s RECODE initiative. 

Laurier’s longstanding commitment to social innovation can be seen in the work of many alumni – one example being Ashoka Fellow Mike Morrice (BBA/BSc ’08). It was at Laurier that Morrice wrote the business plan for a new way of engaging industry in measuring their climate impact, setting goals to reduce it and celebrating progress made. From the halls of the Lazaridis School of Business & Economics, Sustainable Waterloo Region was formed in 2008 to bring the idea to life. Morrice was named an Ashoka Fellow in 2012 in recognition of the potential for this idea to scale, and launched Sustainability CoLab in 2014 to support organizations across Ontario to launch and grow similar innovations in their communities.

“The Changemaker Campus designation puts Laurier on the map globally on social innovation,” said Morrice. “It unleashes the university’s potential to be a breeding ground for the next crop of Ashoka Fellows, armed with the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit needed to inspire widespread adoption of sustainable solutions to our society’s most complex problems.”

Learn more about Laurier’s social entrepreneurship and social innovation initiatives.