Apprenticeship opportunities are few and far between in the highly competitive and ever-developing field of social innovation. To address this challenge, two well-networked students, Curtis and Misty Lefrandt, led the launch of Brigham Young University’s Students for Social Entrepreneurship On-Campus Internship Class (SSE) in 2009 to bridge the gap. They identified barriers for students seeking to gain experience with organizations at the forefront of the field, including Ashoka, Kiva, Fundación Paraguaya, and others. Likewise, they recognized the limitations for social entrepreneurship organizations seeking talented interns. For most students, a conventional internship with a high level of project responsibility and potential impact would not be possible because of the time commitment, travel, and financial sacrifice required. For organizations in the field, managers typically only have the capacity to oversee a few coveted internship positions, usually during the summer.

With these challenges in mind, SSE has been designed as an innovative course that brings teams of students together with experienced student advisors on projects for system-changing organizations. Each team commits to working approximately 40-hours per week, the equivalent of a full time intern. The class takes place in the Fall and Winter semesters when organizations are usually short on internship help. Instead of the students seeking internship opportunities to complement and enhance their college education on their own, the SSE approach builds a course around the internship experience, emphasizing the academic merit of hands-on learning—the type of experience most valued by future employers. Students compete for the opportunity to take the SSE course with the promise of collaborating with peers on projects based on real world relevance and critical organizational needs.

Each SSE class includes up to twelve prominent social entrepreneurship organizations that recognize the benefits of training and identifying future talent while they are still in college and further developing the human capital pipeline for the sector. Each organization benefits from a higher-quality deliverable due to the collaborative nature of the projects. After two years in operation, successful SSE work examples are numerous and include projects such as creating Dowser articles/profiles and working on Acumen Fund’s Blue Sweater college outreach.

The SSE course parallels other on-campus internship opportunities at BYU’s Marriott School where students intern primarily for corporations. Students showed interest in having the same opportunity in social entrepreneurship. The SSE Internship class follows a conventional internship model with the partner organization drawing from its own work and administrative tasks to create the student project. The dynamic project forges a direct link between the academic and social entrepreneurship communities and provides an exceptional opportunity for students to help make a difference in the world.

SSE developed and grew as a resource created primarily by students and for students. Although Curtis and Misty Lefrandt have since graduated, they did much of the initial legwork to recruit on-campus internship partner organizations. Their personal story helped to convince early adopters of the significant benefit to both students and social entrepreneurship organizations. As the faculty instructor of the course, the biggest challenge has been coordinating ever-increasing engagement points with partners of our Peery Social Entrepreneurship Program in ways that continue to benefit everyone involved. Misty has now returned to contribute as the SSE Partner Relations Manager. Curtis is also managing a team of student interns this semester from his position at Innosight, a leading consultancy for innovation.

Students have served as key allies to build this new program and to develop even more partnerships for BYU’s Ballard Center. We continue to integrate student perspectives and leadership in other initiatives at our flagship Peery Program. With their energy and enthusiasm, we’ve learned that students can play a crucial role in making institutional innovation a reality.

Note: This project was a 2011 Ashoka U Innovation Award winner. You can submit new innovation entries for the 2012 competition now.