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A Proposal: Activating Students to Ignite Economic Empowerment and Social Justice in DC

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By Michael McLaughlin (MBA’15)

Anthony Cook practices what he preaches. A professor in Georgetown’s Law Center teaching Democracy and Coercion, exploring the role of lawyers in social movements and the relationship between constitutional law, social inequality, and stratification, Cook is working to establish a cross-campus practicum for MBAs, MPPs, and JDs. The practicum “will get students to deal with society’s seemingly intractable social problems by combining problem solving with social entrepreneurship,” he said.

Currently, students at the Law Center are exposed to social impact and innovation through a practicum whereby they work with microenterprises, social entrepreneurs, and larger social enterprises in the DC area. Students offer legal, business, and public policy assistance, helping local organizations meet their goals as double bottom line companies, or helping them maximize their impact on poor and marginalized communities. In the two years since launching the practicum, Professor Cook has worked with Community Enterprise Partners and Jubilee Housing of Washington DC, as well as green ventures focused on employing underemployed and unemployed DC residents. He has also worked with a dozen or so conventional microenterprises, startup ventures, women and minority-owned businesses and others that simply provide interesting and challenging work for his students.

Professor Cook is presently negotiating a partnership with United Communities Against Poverty (UCAP) in Prince George’s County, Maryland, to help them develop business opportunities that would allow the Community Action Agency to create supplemental revenue streams. “DC Kitchen, for example, used to receive only monetary and food donations. Now they provide lunches to schools as well as brown bag lunches and are able to employ the homeless while simultaneously reducing their government and philanthropy funding to less than 50% of their budget,” he said. He sees the UCAP partnership as the perfect opportunity to bring public policy, business, and law students together to generate and implement ideas for making UCAP’s homeless, education, employment, and housing programs financially sustainable.

With the new practicum Cook is proposing, the course would create a virtual management consulting firm. They would be deployed for the benefit of student ventures within the Georgetown community, but also for those in the broader DC Metropolitan community serving low income and disadvantaged populations. “We will draw on Georgetown’s resources to address poverty, joblessness, underemployment, and the adverse impact of gentrification. It’s a win-win, because the students are enriched by the experience and will see that giving back doesn’t have to be paternalistic; it can be transformative for everyone involved,” said Professor Cook.

One idea among the many Professor Cook discussed involved establishing an “empowerment center” within a low-income housing development in Anacostia, similar to the one NBA All-Star James Worthy established in Gastonia, North Carolina. The center’s goal would be to connect the underserved residents in the community with workforce development opportunities by partnering with, for example, green industry companies. Students in the practicum would cultivate relationships with potential employers and once they created a sustainable business model, the city could help defray some of the job training costs the companies would incur.

“My goal is to bring professional, academic, and grassroots communities together who are separated by land and tradition to positively impact some of the most pressing social problems of our time. This collaborative and interdisciplinary approach to social inequality and stratification must be a major component of moving American Democracy toward a more just society.”