Creating Social Value Blog / Social Innovation

Ashoka Changemaker Campuses: Acting into a New Way of Thinking

With some time to reflect on my experience last week at the annual Ashoka U Exchange, I see it as both an important marker on this journey of change and Social Innovation and a lovely reunion of friends and colleagues. It’s a time to celebrate where we as Babson are on this journey, where the other changemaker campuses are, and where we need to be going.

I started my week with an intimate discussion with 4 other changemaker campuses – Tulane, ASU, George Mason and Duke – who are going through the process of evaluating and reevaluating how they look at Social Innovation and changemaking on their campuses. That session really drove home for me that after 5 years of having the honor and designation of being an Ashoka Changemaker Campus, much has been done, but there is far more yet to be achieved. While it is great to sit and reflect on what we’ve put in place at other universities and specifically what we’ve put in place at Babson, the next frontier is to work in a more integrated capacity with faculty and other departments. (What we call here at The Lewis Institute cultivating “breakthrough interactions” across disciplines.) In this rapidly changing world, we need to continue to rethink relationships and interactions that cultivate skills of changemaking and Social Innovation.

Echoing this, it was really interesting to see how much the conversation is moving toward this idea of Social Innovation. While there is still significant energy around Social Entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurs changing the status quo in certain industries, I look at Social Innovation as a process and mindset of looking at ALL of our disciplines in new and different ways. And why? Because the world’s dilemmas are so significant that we need different disciplines working together to get to scalable solutions.

Toward the end of the week there was a fabulous panel about how we define Social Entrepreneurship and Social Innovation. While most of the panelists easily agreed on the definition of Social Entrepreneurship, Social Innovation is something we still all seem to define differently. So what does Social Innovation mean to us here at Babson? Well it inevitably starts with desire, it looks at both usual and unusual suspects, and is comprised of non-linear journeys and breakthrough interactions.

After observing, working with, learning from and helping accelerate Social Innovation activity on campus, we know that when people are changing things, they tend to have non-linear journeys, they tend to have breakthrough interactions with different kinds of relationships, they tend to foster unusual partnerships. So that really became for us a way that we could chart and see how people are approaching Social Innovation. This remains true whether we are talking about Social Innovation in the food space, inside corporations or a student’s journey here on campus. Here at The Lewis Institute, we say that Social Innovation takes form when we are:

  • Promoting Unusual Partnerships
  • Steering Nonlinear Journeys
  • Cultivating Relationships
  • Activating Changemakers
  • Igniting Breakthrough Interactions
  • Fostering Social Value in Business
  • And in Ashoka terms, building “teams of teams

Perhaps most exciting, was the ability to see that as changemaker campuses not only are we teaching how to be a change agent, we are living it. We as universities collaborate, work to break down walls and span boundaries within our universities. We act differently, work cross-discipline, cross-business unit, cross-department. And the more we do this, the more we start demonstrating what Social Innovation really looks like. We start to ACT our way into a new way of thinking. After 5 years we are proud to see how the field has evolved and that changemaker campuses are truly making a difference, but even more inspired to see they are making a difference in a co-creative, co-learning process. Let the sparks of Social Innovation ignite!