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Profit and purpose

Two Smith centres look to combine their impact in the economy

In the 2019 book The Prosperity Paradox, Harvard professor Clayton Christensen and colleagues explored the curious trifecta of innovation, entrepreneurship and impact. When these three elements collide, 1+1+1 no longer equals three, or even four . . . but zooms to a game-changing 10. The result: economies grow, societies transform and lives improve.

Christensen’s Exhibit A’s included the Singer sewing machine company, whose innovations lifted impoverished Americans in the 1800s; and Mo Ibrahim’s cellphone network, Celtel, which brought the benefits of mobile and easy tech to millions in Africa earlier this century.

There’s a strong argument that a savvy combination of innovation, entrepreneurship and impact is the future of business success. And it’s with that idea in mind that two longstanding Smith centres joined forces.

In September, the Centre for Social Impact and the Centre for Business Venturing became the Centre for Entrepreneurship, Innovation & Social Impact (CEISI). The merger addresses the fact that, today, social impact plays a vital role in the mission of companies big and small.

“Businesses are thinking beyond shareholder return and understanding that they have an important part to play in prosperity writ large,” says Elspeth Murray, MBA’87, Artsci’85, professor of strategy and entrepreneurship and the new centre’s director.

Among the centre’s goals: support new venture success; build innovation capabilities in people and organizations; and foster research, education and community engagement on responsible leadership and social impact. Several initiatives are in the works, including the creation of a social impact fund to support startups and education for social impact investors. CEISI is also looking to develop a secondment program in which corporate Canada employees and students work with Indigenous communities to advance local Indigenous projects.

The new centre is timely. Many students who start companies today add a social purpose to their new venture. “In a world of ESG and SDG, the path to prosperity is one of entrepreneurship and innovation through social impact,” Murray says. “Our students want it and society needs it.”