A dramatic increase in demand for university courses in social innovation and social entrepreneurship over the past few years has presented university educators with two big challenges: 1) to develop a solid understanding of precisely what social entrepreneurs and innovators actually do, and therefore, what they need to know, and 2) to identify the best ways to organize courses and what to include in terms of course content.

A recent special issue of “Academy Management Learning and Education” (AMLE) examines these challenges and is built on the recognition that social entrepreneurship and social innovation are no longer peripheral activities confined to the margins of economies. Instead, they are fundamentally about new and innovative ways of organizing, collaborating, and managing that leverage current practices and technologies. This is where management education can play a crucial role—by nurturing the next generation of social entrepreneurs and supporting them in their efforts to create social value in innovative ways.

The articles that make up this special issue represent a wide range of approaches to understanding the learning and educational implications of social entrepreneurship and social innovation for business schools and other educational institutions, as well as for businesses, nonprofits, and social enterprises. What they share, however, is a certain humility that is borne from the area’s emerging status as a focus of pedagogy and instruction, and the hands-on experience of the authors in confronting the special challenges that come with uniting business education and social change.

The special issue begins with an exemplary contribution: a wide-ranging interview with Professor Frances Westley, the J.W. McConnell Chair in Social Innovation at the University of Waterloo, the head of the Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience, and a pioneer of social entrepreneurship education. For Professor Westley, business schools are the most appropriate places to teach social entrepreneurs the skills and competencies they need, but she is clear that in doing so business school educators will need to engage with new modes of pedagogy: “In the emerging field of social innovation, we need experimentation. We need to give social and institutional entrepreneurs practical skills as well as analytic frameworks.”

In another fascinating interview, Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus discusses the role of business schools in developing the social innovators of the future. Yunus focuses on what he sees as the crucial distinction between social entrepreneurship and social business: “The social entrepreneur may not be involved in a business at all … but a social business leader will pick a problem, design a business to solve that problem, and take it from there—he or she will not just give the money and sit for the results to come.” Educators should therefore focus on teaching students how to “reach and empower the most destitute and marginalized people” through forms of social business.

Issac Smith and Warner Woodworth take a more theoretical approach, arguing that social entrepreneurship courses have an important part to play in imbuing social entrepreneurs with a distinct identity and with the confidence they need to stimulate meaningful social change. They conclude that by “structuring course content, assignments, and activities in ways that urge students to personally identify with social entrepreneurship,” educators “have an opportunity to help a rising generation of social entrepreneurs learn the skills and gain the confidence necessary to combat the growing pervasiveness of the world’s social ills.”

For many years, business schools were slow to engage with the social entrepreneurship community. The situation is changing quickly, with many leading business schools around the world now offering programs that seek to cater to the distinctive needs of social entrepreneurs and innovators. The special issue seeks to augment and embed this shift in the business school landscape. We think that business schools have an important role in helping social entrepreneurs create social value, and believe that the special issue will provide social entrepreneurship educators with an important resource as they refine and extend their courses.

The articles in the special issue are available to Stanford Social Innovation Review readers free of charge until January 31, 2013. Access the “Academy Management Learning and Education” articles here.