Creating Social Value Blog / Social Innovation

3 Reasons We’re Excited Boston is Hosting the Largest Conference for Social Change Educators

By Emily Lamb, Associate Director of the Ashoka U Exchange.

Several months ago, I traveled to Boston to scope out what would become the site of our 9th annual Ashoka U Exchange, taking place April 5-7, 2018. The Exchange is the largest gathering for social innovators transforming higher education into an engine for social change. This year we chose Babson as our host from a list of many possible campuses, and Boston as the city where we wanted to gather our growing community. And while it’s clear to us why this choice was so remarkable we realize that it might not be clear to others. Here are some of the reasons why we are excited to co-host the Exchange with Babson College in Boston this spring!

It’s a hotbed of social innovation in higher ed.

As educators know, doing things differently takes the ability to see things differently. In a city with more colleges and universities than any other, the Boston higher ed community is increasingly committed to an important vision: graduating students with a mission instead of a major.

It is the only city in the world with three Changemaker Campuses: Babson College, Boston College, and Northeastern University. Colleges and universities earn the prestigious Changemaker Campus designation because of their institution-wide commitment to educating students as changemakers. With these three influential and respected campuses leading the charge, this city is driving the future of higher education.

Educators live and breathe changemaking here.

During my time in Boston I visited the Babson campus in Wellesley. I joined The Lewis Institute as a featured guest at their Good Business Friday session, a series of weekly conversations designed to help accelerate people’s journeys around social value creation and amplify their impact in the space. That Friday, more than 30 members of the Babson community came together to explore what it means to be a changemaker, and by the end of the 90 minutes, I could feel the connections and community being built. Babson will share more about how they create this intentional habitat alongside their colleagues from College of the Atlantic and the New School during a session at the Exchange called “Creating a Changemaker Habitat on Campus.”

Babson’s IoT For Good Social Innovation Lab is a semi-finalist for this year’s Ashoka U Innovation Awards, and in 2011, their Social Entrepreneurs in Action Learning Program was selected as part of the inaugural class of awardees. Babson is the “go to place” for global social innovation resources, activities, relationships, networks, knowledge, and convenings, and we’re excited to share more of how they activate changemakers with other Exchange participants.

Alongside Babson, both Boston College and Northeastern University prepare students, regardless of the major, as agents of meaningful change. Boston College’s epicenter for changemakers is the Center for Social Innovation, which supports students and community members to find “innovation from within”. Their emphasis on community includes partnerships with local Boston organizations as well as organizations around the globe. At Northeastern University, social innovation and entrepreneurship is at the core of the university’s culture and mission. With global experiential learning as a requirement and multiple centers of social change spread across campus, (including Northeastern Crossing, IDEA, Social Impact Lab, NuLawLab, Social Enterprise Institute, and MOSAIC), students understand education to be a life-long pursuit, and graduate equipped with the competencies to be changemakers for a better future. 

It’s a city that values impact.

Social impact work isn’t a one size fits all form. From sports to arts to food, the web of organizations spread throughout Boston create local, national, and global impact in some of the most unsuspecting and brilliant ways.

One organization, the Daily Table is a new model for a non-profit grocery store, started by the former president of Trader Joe’s. It’s making healthy eating accessible for all families, regardless of zip code. A host of organizations provide foundational for support for young people across the city. UTEC, Inc is a community organization that works with disconnected young people to trade violence and poverty for social and economic success. The BASE is an urban youth training organization that uses baseball to change minds and lives. InnerCity Weightlifting is a groundbreaking gym that works with the 1% of Boston youth who are responsible for 50% of Boston’s gun violence and homicides. Artists for Humanity uses the arts and creative entrepreneurship to help youth bridge economic, social, and racial divides. But the impact doesn’t just stop in Boston. Bridgespan is a leading consulting group that provides support for mission-driven organizations around the world.

Each of these organizations will host select groups of Exchange attendees for a site visit, allowing participants from around the world to see how these organizations are transforming Boston (and the world) first hand.

Boston is a place that inspires. From the colleges and universities to the people in the community to the organizations breathing life into the city, it is a constellation of opportunity for social impact. Since that first visit months ago, we’ve seen how innovation runs in the DNA of the institutions and city. We can’t wait to welcome you to see it for yourself.


Join us in Boston this April at the 2018 Ashoka U Exchange. Learn more here. Registration closes March 15.