A higher education degree can change an individual’s world—but using that degree for positive social change can change the world for many.

All entrepreneurs have passion, ambition, vision, confidence, and persistence. But just what is a social entrepreneur, and what makes them different?

Social entrepreneurs use their skills and higher education degrees to develop long-term, sustainable solutions to social problems. Bill Drayton, CEO, chair, and founder of Ashoka—a global network for social entrepreneurship—offers an insightful depiction of this unique type of individual: “Social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the fishing industry.”

Sarah Chayes: Award-Winning Author, Political Advisor, Policymaker, and Social Entrepreneur

Sarah Chayes received her first introduction to Afghanistan as a journalist, when she was sent to cover the fall of the Taliban for NPR. Moved by what she was reporting, Chayes eventually left her job in order to remain in Kandahar and help with Afghanistan’s reconstruction.

While she made many contributions, one in particular brought light to her social entrepreneurship—and hope to a devastated country.

This Is What a Social Entrepreneur Can Accomplish

Chayes launched a manufacturing cooperative that produces skin care products made with ingredients from local Afghan agriculture. Profits from the export of the skin care products would help revive the region’s historic role in exporting fruit and its derivatives, promote sustainable income, and provide an alternative to its heavy opium and hashish trade.

In 2014, Chayes spoke at the winter commencement ceremony for Walden University, which offers online graduate degree programs and is well known for its mission of social change. In her address to hundreds of higher education degree recipients, Sarah offered three key ingredients for effecting positive social change:

  1. Ground yourself in truth. Break through homogeneity in your immediate social or professional circles and bring in opposing voices. It’s not easy or convenient, but alternative perspectives highlight the reality of situations from all sides.

  2. Make allies. Seek out and create an environment where other positive people are present, feel welcome, and want to contribute. Suddenly, you’ll have generated the critical mass needed to create real change.

  3. Get out of your comfort zone. Walk around in neighborhoods that are unfamiliar. Interact with different people and listen. Whatever your background, explore the opposite extreme.

If you find that you have a mind for business and a heart for social entrepreneurship, an online graduate degree program might be your best next step. By earning a doctorate in business administration (DBA) or a master of business administration (MBA), you can earn the skills and knowledge you need to spearhead projects that create sustainable social value.

Sarah Chayes is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where her work focuses on the international security implications of acute corruption. Former special advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Chayes is an expert in South Asia policy, anticorruption, and civil–military relations. She is the author of The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban and a contributing writer for the Los Angeles Times opinion section.

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