As someone who has been involved in microfinance organizations to help low-income individuals develop businesses, has worked with homeless youth and has participated in a program in the Dominican Republic, University of San Diego Economics Professor Stephen Conroy is a natural fit to be the new director of USD’s Center for Peace and Commerce (CPC).
He’ll lead the center’s efforts in preparing new generations of Changemakers to develop innovative approaches for achieving the “four P’s” of people, profit, planet and peace through scholarship, enterprise development and engagement with multiple stakeholders.
The center is a joint project between USD’s School of Business Administration and the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies. Conroy succeeds Patricia Marquez, associate professor of management, who will now be concentrating her efforts on leading the university’s Ashoka Changemaker Hub to link the diverse innovative initiatives taking place across the campus and promote effective solutions to contemporary social issues.
“There is no doubt that businesses can play a very important role in alleviating poverty and addressing social and environmental problems,” said Conroy, who earned his PhD from the University of Southern California and has taught at USD since 2004.
“While many firms and business owners have donated to the poor in the past, what is new is that they are actually incorporating it into their business model. We also see firms such as Grameen Bank, ACCION International and many others providing opportunities for the poor — especially women — to start up small and medium-sized enterprises. These are exciting changes that are occurring and we have an opportunity to be part of this movement.”
A sense of duty and concern for others is imbued in USD’s mission as a Catholic university and Conroy sees several opportunities for students to become Changemakers, including studying abroad, working with the Center for Community Service-Learning or being involved with the CPC.
In particular, he thinks business students, including those whose career plans are for-profit enterprises, can learn from being involved with the center’s Social Innovation Challenge (SIC). The SIC promotes, guides and supports student-driven ideas to launch or to contribute to existing social enterprises by for-profit, hybrid and nonprofit organizations locally or abroad. Since its inception in 2010, the SIC has awarded $42,000 in cash prizes to help students implement their proposals.
In preparation for next year’s challenge, the center will hold several “idea labs” in the spring and fall semesters for interested student SIC applicants.
“These workshops often feature one or more real-world businessmen or women that have made a difference in the world, generally through creating a social business” to help solve social, economic or environmental problems, he explained.
Even if students choose not to enter the challenge, they can benefit from attending the idea labs.
“These are often very inspiring talks and may provide information or ideas that students can use — if not now then perhaps later on in life. Life is full of challenges and it is impossible for students to know for sure how their life will go, especially these days.”
Conroy is considering several other ideas for the center but is still in an information-gathering and listening mode. Both Marquez and CPC Assistant Director Nadia Auch, “have done a marvelous job of setting up and running the CPC so I have the luxury of observing and looking for ways to improve, rather than making drastic changes right away,” he said. “It’s especially exciting to be a part of the Ashoka Changemaker movement. There is a real ‘buzz’ on campus and we expect to be a major partner in this exciting endeavor.”
— Erick Podwill ‘13