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Educating for responsible entrepreneurship: A project up to the challenges of our century

In 2017, Université Laval introduced responsible entrepreneurship in its Strategic Planning, mentioning that projects with positive social or environmental benefits would henceforth be promoted and favored. What lessons can be learned from this experience for entrepreneurial education along the school continuum? This is the subject of this short article.

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by Matthias Pepin, assistant professor 
Maripier Tremblay, associate professor
Luc K. Audebrand, full professor 
Management department - FSA ULaval 

In 2017, Université Laval introduced responsible entrepreneurship in its Strategic Planning, mentioning that projects with positive social or environmental benefits would henceforth be promoted and favored. Since then, a lot of work has been done to integrate the notion of responsibility in entrepreneurship courses and in supporting business projects of student-entrepreneurs on campus. What lessons can be learned from the experience of Université Laval for entrepreneurial education along the school continuum? This is the subject of this short article. 

Favorable assets: entrepreneurship and sustainable development 

Université Laval has a long history in entrepreneurship. In 1993, Entrepreneuriat Laval, the university's business incubator, was born. In 2004, the Entrepreneurial Profile was created, a 12-credit program allowing baccalaureate students from many faculties to add an entrepreneurial dimension to their study program. Sustainable development (SD) has also occupied a central place at Laval University since 2007, the date of its Institutional Policy in this area. Many projects have been undertaken and Laval University has among other things become the first carbon neutral campus in Canada on a voluntary basis. In this context, promoting responsible entrepreneurship relies on two well-established strengths of Université Laval, namely entrepreneurship and SD. 

Responsible entrepreneurship: what is it? 

Responsible entrepreneurship is defined as the integration of the three economic, social and environmental dimensions of SD in the objectives of any entrepreneurial or business project, from its inception. From this perspective, entrepreneurship no longer aims to create value only economic, but also social and environmental. This broader conception of entrepreneurship implies that all the decisions to be taken within the framework of a project be weighed in the light of their impacts, positive as well as negative, on the three dimensions of SD in order to create responsible value. Promoting such a vision of entrepreneurship is quite simply a necessity in the current context of the climate crisis, which is inseparable from the social inequalities generated by unbridled and irresponsible growth. 

Inspiring examples of companies 

Loop Mission  is a Quebec company that fights against food waste by relying on the principles of the circular economy. In particular, it recovers “ugly” fruits and vegetables rejected by the industry to enhance them, for example in cold pressed juice. Thanks to its activities, more than 3,500 tonnes of still perfectly edible fruit and vegetables have to date been diverted from landfill sites. Gaia & Dubos  is a Quebec company in the fashion sector, which is one of the most polluting in the world and where working conditions are often deplorable. Through a careful selection of the textiles used and decent working conditions, this company locally produces ecological and socially responsible clothing. These are just two examples, but more and more companies, in Quebec as elsewhere, are created to provide responsible responses to the challenges of our century. 

And at school ? 

Responsible entrepreneurship is therefore women and men who put their power of action at the service of a social or environmental mission (e.g. fight against food waste, reduce social inequalities) through a project or a business. This implies becoming aware of the contemporary issues of our world. In a school setting, a good place to start is to explore with students the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), or 17 global goals which aim to direct individual and collective actions towards a socially equitable and environmentally sustainable world. How do one or more of these SDGs resonate in the school context? What local issue associated with the SDGs can be identified by the students? And how can the class-group put its power of action at the service of a project oriented towards its resolution? 

As we have seen, responsible entrepreneurship involves conscientiously reflecting on the repercussions, both positive and negative, of its decisions and actions on the three dimensions of SD. This implies to design and evaluate differently the objectives and the success of the implemented projects. Business modeling tools, or more simply project planning, have emerged in recent years for this purpose. The responsible entrepreneurial project matrix, developed by our team, can be used with students to plan their projects by integrating all the complexity of sustainable development issues. 

Conclusion 

Young people are particularly sensitive to the challenges of our century. We see it through social movements, including the student strike by Fridays for the future initiated by the young Swedish Greta Thunberg. What could be more understandable than this mobilization of youth when it is their very future that is at stake. Alongside activism and political commitment, responsible entrepreneurship is one possible way of orienting their power of action towards the creation of the world of tomorrow. 

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