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As a fog of corporate scandals, terrorism warnings and war blankets the economy, socially conscious investing -- long regarded as something of an oxymoron -- appears to be gaining new popularity. One leading indicator: the National Social Venture Competition, which awards venture funding to MBA candidates who write business plans that combine the profit motive with social benefits. Started three years ago by the University of California, Berkeley, the competition is now co-sponsored by the business school at Columbia University and backed by a grant from the Goldman Sachs Foundation. For the current competition, which ends this month, students have submitted 95 business plans -- an increase of 25 percent over last year. "People are recognizing that social benefits and financial benefits in a single enterprise can actually be highly compatible goals," says Stephanie Bell-Rose, who heads the Goldman foundation. "I think the environment we're in certainly may have something to do with that."