New York, April 30, 2009 — Eager to use his skills as a product engineer to benefit communities in Africa devastated by land mines, Bart Weetjens devised a way to safely detect these lethal reminders of past conflicts. Animal lover Weetjens, inspired by watching dogs search for buried explosives, discovered that the light-weight African giant pouched rat could be taught to sniff out and disarm land mines more cost effectively, with no harm to the animal whatsoever.
Columbia Law School students who attended a recent symposium on “Social Entrepreneurship and the Law” learned about this unusual project from speaker Scott Rechler, who works for Ashoka, a global social-change organization and an early funder of Weetjens. Rechler and more than 2,000 colleagues who are associated with Ashoka seek creative solutions to social and environmental problems, and Ashoka ensures that the most promising ideas get developed and sustained.
The inaugural symposium was hosted by Law Students for Social Enterprise, founded by Omar Haroun ’11 to raise awareness of social enterprise career opportunities available to students after graduation. According to Haroun, "The beauty of social enterprise is that its message— to think outside the box in ways to make the world a better place—resonates with not only students who plan public interest careers, but also students who plan on working at a firm or in government.”
Ironically, the flailing economy may have opened up more ways than ever before for lawyers to become involved in social enterprise, says Professor Raymond Horton, who directs Columbia Business School’s Social Enterprise Program. Horton described social enterprise as an umbrella concept that encompasses the public and non-profit sector, international development, corporate social responsibility and sustainability, and social entrepreneurship. Ashoka is one of many organizations actively seeking young lawyers to do pro bono work for their entrepreneurs.
Haroun is confident that his peers will heed that advice. “Judging by the enthusiasm of those who attended our symposium," he said, "I think it is safe to say that Columbia is on its way to producing a new generation of lawyers who are as committed to solving some of the world's problems as they are to their own success as future lawyers."
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