Social Business Challenge aims to showcase the best of Oregon's higher education
By Christina Williams
Sustainable Business Oregon editor
Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize winner and leading thinker on social business, will be in Portland Monday to talk about how companies — and education — can change the world.
A first-ever event next Monday will feature Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize recipient and leading thinker on micro-lending, in a bid to show average Oregonians that state higher education is making the world a better place.
Yunus, a leading thinker on social business — the practice of using business to help solve social problems — agreed to waive his typical $125,000 speaking fee if 1,000 Oregonians would get in the same room to learn more about social entrepreneurship.
Bridget Burns, chief of staff for the Oregon University System, took him up on that offer.
Around Yunus' talk, OUS has built a showcase of existing social ventures that have emanated from Oregon Universities and recruited 15 teams of students to pitch their own social business ideas. The event has been dubbed the Oregon Social Business Challenge.
In addition to focusing attention on how social business and impact investing can improve society, Burns hopes the event might also start to sway public perception of the university system.
"There is a real challenge in Oregon in terms of public opinion that public higher education is a private good — you get the degree, you should pay for it," Burns said.
At the Oregon Convention Center, attendees will hear from EcoZoom, a Portland company that's invented a new kind of eco-friendly cook stove for use in Latin America, and My Street Grocery, a mobile healthy food vendor that's setting out to address the issue of food deserts in Portland.
Both companies got startup support from the Portland State University Social Innovation Incubator, which was formed in 2010 to help launch social ventures. The incubator was one initiative that helped get PSU designated this week as "Changemaker Campus" by the Ashoka U program, which also nurtures social entrepreneurship education.
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