School Profile: BYU’s Ballard Center

Ballard CenterBYU’s Ballard Center helps students forge careers in service

By EMMA PENROD, Contributing Writer

Tucked inside the Marriot School of Management at Brigham Young University is an office where a handful of individuals dedicate themselves to a practice called “social entrepreneurship”—using small businesses to improve the standard of living in developing countries around the world.

The Ballard Center hosts a half-dozen programs intended to serve students with all levels of interest in social entrepreneurship. At one end of the spectrum, the center hosts semester-long, on-campus internships to introduce students to the basic tasks of running a nonprofit. On the other, the center can provide grants of up to $2,500 per individual to assist students participating in nonprofit work and other social ventures in the U.S. and abroad.

Through an initiative called Students for Social Entrepreneurship, which began just two years ago, around 30 to 40 students are selected each semester as on-campus interns. The chosen applicants enroll in a three-credit hour class during which they work on a variety of remote projects, such as assisting nonprofit global ventures like the Acumen Fund with essential market research or creating textbooks for the visually impaired.

Jason Harrison, a 25-year-old Latin American Studies major, became involved with the Ballard Center through such an internship during the fall semester of 2010. During that first experience, Harrison worked with Ashoka, a global association of social entrepreneurs. His task was to assist a team working through Ashoka to gain additional property rights for women in developing countries.

“With my Spanish, I drafted up some correspondence [with organizations advocating women’s property rights] that we sent out to South America, and conducted some interviews,” Harrison said.

That internship later led Harrison to a summer-long internship with Ashoka at the organization’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. After securing his summer position with Ashoka, Harrison applied for and received a $2,400 grant from the Ballard Center.

Harrison said the two experiences changed his career path entirely.

“Before [I learned about] Students for Social Entrepreneurship, I lived in a world of ‘or,’” Harrison said. “I could either go to business school, get a high paying job and hate my life; or I could change the world and never make any money, but have a meaningful career. And this was very discouraging to me—I changed my major four times.”

For graduate students who don’t have a whole semester to dedicate to an internship, the Ballard Center offers a three-week social entrepreneurship consulting experience. Laura Lewis, a 25-year-old student earning a master’s degree in public administration, was assigned to work with a nonprofit called Fundación Paraguaya in May 2011. After working in an office for some time, Lewis travelled to a rural Paraguayan village, where she taught women about successful business models and how to launch their own social ventures.

“It’s almost a necessity there,” Lewis said. “There weren’t any jobs available, so they have to open businesses.”

The Ballard Center also offers opportunities for students interested in other niche areas of study. One program offers funding to film students with an interest in creating mini-documentaries about social entrepreneurs working in the field. Another, the center’s newest initiative, strives to provide grants to engineering students willing to develop projects that would improve a population’s standard of living. Or for students with more specific and independent ambitions, the Ballard Center holds a Social Venture Competition—the winner receives financial support in launching his or her own social entrepreneurship organization.

Altogether, the center works with about 400 students per year, according to Ballard Center administrator Brad Hales. He said these students are selected based upon their ability to initiate and support unique ideas that have a large, positive impact on those in need.

“We want people who are going to work on a system,” Hales said. “We want people who can make an impact that is scalable.”

By educating these students, Hales said the Ballard Center hopes to not only fulfill BYU’s slogan of “Enter to learn, go forth to serve,” but to surpass it.

“They go forth to serve better and serve more wisely,” he said.

– Daniel Byrnes contributed to this article

Learn more about BYU’s Ballard Center