The Social Innovation Fellowship (SIF) is a unique opportunity both on Brown's campus and beyond. The following are core aspects of the SIF that define and shape each Fellow's experience:
1) Powerful Networks
In today's fast-paced and networked society, innovators need to be connected. The Social Innovation Fellowship provides a model for the type of networks that entrepreneurs need to build around themselves and their ventures. This strong network and sense of community is built not only within cohorts of Fellows, but also between cohort years, between Fellows and mentors, and amongst other members of the SII community:
- The proposal – Once they submit a letter of intent, potential Fellows are paired with 2-3 previous Fellows, Brown alumni, and/or topic experts and meet with them to revise and reflect on their proposal and plans.
- The retreat – The first weekend of the Spring semester is spent at an opening retreat for the Fellowship, where Fellows share their stories and goals with each other – the first step in building their internal cohort community.
- Peer leaders – Every other week, Fellows meet in assigned small groups with previous Fellows who are still on campus, sharing their experiences as student entrepreneurs with each other in comfortable, peer-led discussions.
- The mentor – Each Fellow is paired with a relevant alumni or professional mentor to work with them once they are accepted, meeting or speaking on the phone regularly to discuss challenges, successes, and any other important events.
Once the 15-month program ends, Fellows are still part of the community. Beyond mentoring incoming cohorts, Fellows stay connected in multiple ways: SII staff continue to advise them on their ventures, careers, or other topics; and in some cases, Fellows are provided with further financial support. Many continue to build various mentoring relationships within our community.
2) Co-Curricular Learning
For the first cohorts of Social Innovation Fellows, exploring social innovation outside of the classroom was not enough - they wanted more. They asked us for more programming, resources, and information, but the volume of support they wanted was difficult to provide on an extracurricular level.
In the spring of 2013, the course Leading Social Ventures: Social Entrepreneurship in Action was offered for the first time. With the help of Adjunct Professor in Public Policy and founder of Kaplan Consulting, MJ Kaplan, Leading Social Ventures was created to provide both Social Innovation Fellows and other social entrepreneurs on campus the chance to gain knowledge, analytical competence, and leadership skills relevant to leading innovative organizations. The teaching method of the course is interactive, experiential, and assumes that students are highly motivated to be part of an active learning community.
The course is a complementary academic component to the Fellowship, providing an intellectual lens on innovation and entrepreneurship, with two main focal points:
- Systems – By understanding the social systems that ventures are operating in, students are able to take a more complex, systems-based approach to their work.
- Business models – Business models are a venture-mapping tool that naturally leads to a deeper understanding of a venture's theory of change and hypotheses.
3) Summer Immersion
Wherever the summer takes our Fellows, the most important thing is that they are fully and completely there. SIF funding allows them to fully commit themselves to their ventures without having to worry about other financial obligations. For the first time, Fellows experience the opportunity to work full-time on their ventures and truly immerse themselves in their work.
Through our innovative online storytelling platform, Swearer Sparks, Fellows keep the community up-to-date on their latest successes and challenges through blog posts over the summer. Just because they are prepared does not mean that these summers are easy or straightforward - nearly every Fellow faces challenges they never expected. By staying connected with the community over the summer, they are able to constantly reflect, iterate, and move forward with the support they need to do so.
The Social Innovation Fellowship operates on a 15-month schedule, beginning with the application process in the fall and continuing on throughout the following summer and academic year.
The Fellowship timeline can be broken down into five parts with clear objectives:
Applicants have the opportunity to submit draft proposals in mid-November, and are assigned three mentors to help them hone & refine their ideas • Final proposals due at the end of December
Accepted fellows attend workshops and other activities to help them refine their venture, develop leadership skills and prepare for the summer • Fellows enroll in Leading Social Ventures • Each fellow is paired with an alumni or other professional mentor
Fellows receive funding to allow them to work full time on the venture for 10 weeks • Fellows submit blog posts reflecting on their experiences
Fellows debrief and reflect on summer experiences • Fellows participate in workshops and other activities to build management skills
Fellows act as mentors for the next class of fellows