Every year, tons of medicine goes unused. In California alone, medications worth an estimated $100 million are destroyed annually. At the same time, about 30 percent of patients forgo treatment because they cannot afford their prescriptions. How can such waste be avoided?

SIRUM—a California-based, nonprofit startup founded by Adam Kircher, '07, MS '07, George Wang, PhD '09, and Kiah Williams, '07, MA '07—is addressing this problem. Described by Williams as "the Match.com for unused medicine," SIRUM's online service redistributes the surplus to needy patients.

As SIRUM and many other ventures demonstrate, not all Stanford start-ups are for-profit. Our community has a long history of public service, and increasingly we see a deep interest among students to put the Stanford entrepreneurial spirit to work for social good.

Programs campuswide support this interest. For more than a quarter of a century, the Haas Center for Public Service has provided leadership and guidance in this arena. Today, it offers a broad framework for students thinking about social innovation and ways to leverage their education to become ethical and effective leaders and entrepreneurs. The Business Association of Stanford Entrepreneurial Students, one of the largest student entrepreneurship groups in the world, sponsors the Social Entrepreneurship Challenge in which student teams compete for funding to implement innovative new ventures that will have a positive social impact. The Graduate School of Business's Center for Social Innovation offers programs and activities to MBA students, alumni and practitioners to help them tackle difficult social problems and create change. The Program on Social Entrepreneurship at the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law fosters exchanges between U.S.-based and international social entrepreneurs, bringing academic research to bear on real-world challenges.

But this expanded interest in "social e," as it is commonly called, also brings misconceptions. A primary misconception is the belief that all social e is technologically based.

Global Citizen Year, a 2013 Ashoka U–Cordes Innovation Award Winner, belies that. Founded by alumna Abby Falik, '01, MA '02, four years ago, it provides high school graduates with a "bridge year" between high school and college to become immersed in the culture of a developing country. Such experiences can be transformative and lead to lifelong involvement in social e.

At Kiva, technology plays a role but does not drive change. Co-founded by Jessica Jackley, MBA '07, Matt Flannery, '00, MA '01, and Premal Shah, '98, Kiva uses the Internet to connect people, enabling individuals to make micro-loans—as little as $25—to entrepreneurs half a world away. Since its founding in 2005, Kiva—a Social E Challenge finalist—has loaned more than $450 million. The average loan amount is $408, and the repayment rate is 99 percent.

Sometimes a new organization is the best way to generate change; other times working within existing networks is more effective. Lorne Needle's efforts as the chief community investment officer of United Way of the Bay Area exemplify how existing networks can be used to identify and support social impact organizations. As a student, he started East Palo Alto Stanford Academy, the Haas Center's first local education program. Twenty-five years later, EPASA continues to tutor and mentor students in the local community, while Needle, '87, MBA '92, encourages fledgling nonprofit organizations.

These are just a few of the many Stanford students and alumni involved in social e who exemplify what makes social entrepreneurship "social." In establishing the University, the founders hoped that the education provided would "promote the public welfare by exercising an influence on behalf of humanity and civilization." More than a century later, members of the Stanford community continue to work to make our world a better place for future generations. I think Jane and Leland Stanford would be very proud.


John Hennessey was the president of Stanford University.