International interest in social entrepreneurship 

Student presenting ideas at conference in Canada.
There is huge interest around the world in getting innovation and entrepreneurship into further and continuing educational programmes in new ways. In May, students and teachers from VIA were in Canada where there was great interest in VIA’s approach to social entrepreneurship, including on the early childhood education and preschool teaching educational programme.

“Although I’m studying on the early childhood education and preschool teaching educational programme, it’s not at all certain that I’m going to have a traditional job as a preschool teacher. The world is unpredictable, and as a student today we have to create our own opportunities to a great extent,” says Nicla Hovedskov Christensen.

She is a preschool student teacher at VIA University College in Horsens and has just returned from Canada after participating in the Social Enterprise through Design Thinking workshop and the Global Forum on Entrepreneurship and Innovation conference. VIA’s Canadian partner, Humber College, issued the invitation and paid for the trip.

Focusing on the social aspect of innovation

With students from all over the world, Nicla Hovedskov Christensen completed a course in social innovation. And despite many students being from design and business educational programmes, the preschool student teacher’s professionalism contributed significantly.

“My professional pedagogical knowledge of relationships and communication within different target groups, e.g., the socially disadvantaged is a huge advantage when working with social entrepreneurship. It’s about creating something that is beneficial for people,” she says.

Huge interest in the Danish approach

It was precisely VIA’s work on using social innovation and entrepreneurship in professionally-oriented educational programmes, such as teachers, pre-school teachers, educators and social workers, which garnered attention at the conference in Canada.

Marta Padovan-Özdemir is a researcher and associate professor on the early childhood education and preschool teaching educational programme in Horsens, where she teaches the elective course on social innovation and entrepreneurship, which Nicla Hovedskov Christensen took. She experienced a great interest from Canadian and international participants at the conference in Canada for the human-oriented approach to entrepreneurship that VIA uses, for example, on its early childhood education and preschool teaching educational programme.

“It’s an approach that speaks to a great extent to the basic professionalism of the professionally-oriented educational programmes in Denmark and other countries. Social entrepreneurship opens up completely new ways of understanding oneself as a professional, and that resonates around the world,” says Marta Padovan-Özdemir.

Ethical challenges in social innovation

At the conference in Canada, she also discussed the ethical issues that arise when innovation concerns people – who may be socially vulnerable.

“As teachers, we have to consider what happens when students go out and try to solve real – and perhaps disadvantaged – people’s problems. How far can one go? For example, can you just gather data and ideas without giving anything back?” asks Marta Padovan-Özdemir.

Innovation via questions and involvement

At its core social innovation is quite Danish. It is about you as a professional listening to the people you work with. Letting people talk about their problems and setting things in motion rather than coming up with ready-made solutions.

“The public sector has gradually recognised that innovation doesn’t work if it is pushed down from on high. Therefore, we are teaching our students to help develop innovation from the bottom,” says Marta Padovan-Özdemir.

VIA has a partnership agreement with the Canadian University Georgian College, which also has a strong focus on social innovation and is interested in collaborating with VIA on the issue, e.g., through summer schools, webinars or student exchanges.

VIA student brought her business into play

Another VIA student invited to Canada was Anne Mette Bjerre from VIA Design & Business in Aarhus. It is an educational programme that traditionally targets students with more innovative abilities.

Anne Mette Bjerre is no exception. Despite still studying, she has already established the company I’m a doer, which she brought to the workshop.

“The idea with my company is to instil more courage in people by applauding those daring to do things differently. I do this by telling their stories in various ways and on numerous platforms,” says Anne Mette Bjerre.

She did not start out thinking of herself as a social entrepreneur. But that is exactly how others experience her business.

“I think it’s about I’m a doer influencing people’s approach to life. It gives us courage,” she says.

During the workshop in Canada, Anne Mette Bjerre, in collaboration with other students, including Nicla from the early childhood education and preschool teaching educational programme, continued working on her idea. Specifically, they are going to make a book with stories and photos of 100 so-called “doers” – i.e., people who have acted differently and with courage.

“Being allowed to work with my own courage has meant a lot to me personally. That even while studying, I’ve been allowed to try something even though I don’t quite know where it’ll end up. The open and innovative approach of the early childhood education and preschool teaching programme is extremely relevant to the subject today,” she says.

VIA has put entrepreneurship into the system

The interest in VIA’s work on entrepreneurship in the educational programmes follows a massive effort on VIA’s part to spread innovation and entrepreneurship out into all 42 programmes. One of the results of this effort is that VIA won the 2018 award for the most entrepreneurial educational institution of the year in Denmark. The award is presented by the Danish Entrepreneurship Award. Read more here.

For more information on VIA’s international partnerships, please contact:

Tina Lisberg Bundgaard
Executive Senior Advisor in Global Engagement
T: +45 87 55 15 04
E: tlb@via.dk