A new program at Ottawa’s Saint Paul University will teach people on the margins of society methods to start and sustain businesses Photo by Michael Swan.

Saint Paul program takes business to the margins

  • October 24, 2015

Last year Pope Francis told writers Andrea Tornielli and Giacomo Galeazzi, “This economy kills.” This year Ottawa’s Saint Paul University is launching a practical program in techniques for building a different kind of economy.

Based on a modest gift of $2.5 million from an anonymous donor, the Oblate-founded university affiliated with the University of Ottawa is putting together a new “School of Social Innovation.” The Catholic university expects its new school will offer its first courses in 2017 and gradually build to a complete program of undergraduate and graduate studies in partnership with the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management.

The new school will research and teach practical methods for starting and sustaining businesses that both make money and benefit people on the margins of society, said Manal Guirgus-Younger, Saint Paul University dean of human sciences and philosophy.

Whether it’s a catering business that employs intellectually disabled people or a business incubator for new immigrants, the Saint Paul School of Social Innovation plans to teach a less predatory, more responsible form of entrepreneurship.

The business of teaching business for the socially conscious isn’t really all that different for a Catholic university most famous for its faculties of theology, philosophy and canon law, said Guirgus-Younger.

“For us to continue to grow as a society, we need to be thinking about these ways of doing things. It’s absolutely consistent with our Catholic mission and our Catholic values of reaching out — especially values that lead us to help people in poverty,” she said. “Catholicism has a long intellectual tradition of critical analysis, offering alternative models. This is nothing new to Catholic thought.”

That tradition of academics grounded in real-world applications is a Saint Paul University tradition living on today in its counselling and psychotherapy centre which puts psychology students to work in the community providing affordable mental health care, as well as its Discovery University program that reaches out to poor and marginalized high school students to encourage them to pursue post-secondary education.

“I think Ottawa is a good place (for the School of Social Innovation),” said Guirgis-Younger. “There is a hunger.”

Saint Paul is counting on the Telfer School to bring the business practices side of things. But the Catholic university’s tradition of applied philosophy makes it more than an equal partner. Saint Paul’s program of graduate studies in public ethics and its history of community organizing is a base on which to build the new School of Social Innovation.

“You cannot really, I think, run a socially responsible enterprise without being aware of multiple dimensions of human existence, including the spiritual dimension, including a vision to remove people from poverty and hardship — a vision of social justice,” said Guirgus-Younger. “We live in the real world, so they have to succeed in the real world. We want to give them the skills. We want to teach them how to be mindful of their communities, how to offer strong social benefits from their businesses.”

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