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How policy inspires change

Plenty of col­lege stu­dents have that “Aha!” moment, when they realize exactly what they want to do with the rest of their lives. Not many, though, can say they had theirs in the White House.

That’s exactly what hap­pened to Laura Mueller-​​Soppart, an eco­nomics and polit­ical sci­ence com­bined major. Pre­vious com­mu­nity ser­vice work through North­eastern had already showed her the pro­found impact that ser­vice orga­ni­za­tions can have on their com­mu­ni­ties. Her White House intern­ship built on those expe­ri­ences by show­casing how social busi­nesses could do work that had been ful­filled almost exclu­sively by non­profit organizations.

“The idea of social inno­va­tion inspired me and com­pletely changed my tra­jec­tory at North­eastern,” said Mueller-​​Soppart, who is sched­uled to grad­uate in December.

Mueller-​​Soppart spent four months in 2011 as an intern on the Obama administration’s Domestic Policy Council, where she worked on vet­erans’ issues and com­po­nents of the Afford­able Care Act. From that expe­ri­ence, she learned first­hand how policy cre­ates oppor­tu­ni­ties for entre­pre­neurs who are equally eager to pro­mote social good and suc­ceed financially.

“Social entre­pre­neur­ship high­lights how profit and pos­i­tive change can come together in a way that make a real social impact,” she said.

Mueller-Soppart’s White House intern­ship was book­ended by two other rewarding experiential-​​learning oppor­tu­ni­ties. She began the year working in Bel­gium as a leg­isla­tive aide in the Euro­pean Union, and the final four months of 2011 were spent in Chicago at the MacArthur Foun­da­tion, where she helped develop pro­grams that encour­aged grant recip­i­ents to pool their resources in order to achieve more with finite funds.

Upon her return to campus, where she serves as editor-​​in-​​chief of the North­eastern Uni­ver­sity Polit­ical Review, Mueller-​​Soppart became involved in Northeastern’s Social Enter­prise Insti­tute. She trav­eled to South Africa last summer to work with microen­tre­pre­neurs who were launching new busi­nesses; she will return again this summer as a teaching assis­tant for SEI founder and director Dennis Shaugh­nessy, an exec­u­tive pro­fessor of entre­pre­neur­ship and inno­va­tion in the D’Amore-McKim School of Busi­ness.

“Social enter­prise is per­fect for someone like me studying policy and eco­nomics,” she said.

Mueller- ​​Soppart is eager to apply per­for­mance met­rics to social busi­nesses. She is get­ting her chance now by working on co-​​op with Mass­a­chu­setts’ Fed­eral Grants Man­age­ment Office, a divi­sion of the Exec­u­tive Office for Admin­is­tra­tion and Finance, which is wrap­ping up its over­sight of fed­eral stim­ulus dol­lars in the state and is now insti­tuting a new, trans­parent pro­gram that will track the effi­ciency of future gov­ern­ment inno­va­tion projects.

Per­for­mance met­rics, she noted, also apply to smaller-​​scale social enter­prise; many investors are eager to sup­port busi­nesses that pro­mote the greater good, but they want to know their invest­ments will make a tan­gible difference.

“It’s not just about trial and error,” she said. “It’s about trial and error and then learning some­thing as you go forward.”

– by Matt Collette

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