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How to Transform Ex-Convicts into Entrepreneurs

October 18th, 2017

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Job hunting is a challenge for most people—but for ex-convicts transitioning back into everyday life, finding a job can be nearly impossible. Data suggests that over half of the men and women who return home after being released from prison are unemployed for up to a year. Many of the formerly incarcerated see self-employment as one of the only routes to earn a steady income without resorting to low-wage employment.

Dr. Charlotte Ren, a Fox School associate professor in the Strategic Management department, saw the challenges the formerly incarcerated face and created an integrated course that provides entrepreneurial skills to this underserved population. This year, Ren’s course, “The Social Entrepreneurial Approach to Community Reintegration,” was identified by the Academy of Management as one of the finest innovations in the area of entrepreneurship education and received the 2017 Innovation in Entrepreneurship Pedagogy Award.

Ren’s course is part of a larger, on-going initiative called the Penn Restorative Entrepreneurship Program (PREP), an initiative she founded in 2014. “At the core of this course [and PREP] is the idea of addressing societal challenges and transforming lives through knowledge creation and sharing by bringing together college students and members of disadvantaged populations,” said Ren.

The ten-week accelerated program brings together students from multiple disciplines and formerly incarcerated individuals for intensive training on the many ways of starting and running small businesses and social enterprises.

After completing the course, students from both the university and the judicial system will be able to understand major theories of entrepreneurship, acquire skills involved in designing and implementing social entrepreneurship programs, and also understand the nature and scope of community reintegration problems

The economic benefits of re-entry programs like Ren’s have been projected to make a significant impact. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the U.S. economy lost between $57 and $65 billion in 2008 alone due to unemployed or underemployed ex-convicts. Through her course, Ren is helping to create opportunities for the formerly incarcerated to contribute to society and our economy in a meaningful way.

“I hope my course will inspire more faculty members,” Ren said, “both at the Fox School and across other schools and universities, to develop courses that apply their research and teaching expertise into addressing some of the pressing social issues in society.”

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