Fellowship and Course Receive Global Innovation Award

January 14, 2014
Awardees (L to R): Lizzie Pollock, Assistant Director of Social Entrepreneurship; Alan Harlam, Director of Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship; and MJ Kaplan ‘82, Adjunct Professor of Public Policy

Brown’s Social Innovation Initiative has been selected as a winner of the 2014 Ashoka U-Cordes Innovation Award for its co-curricular approach to supporting social entrepreneurship through the Social Innovation Fellowship and Leading Social Ventures course.

The Ashoka U-Cordes Innovation Award was created to recognize promising educational approaches in social entrepreneurship and inspire innovation at colleges and universities around the world. The award was established four years ago by Ashoka U, an initiative of Ashoka, the world’s largest network of social entrepreneurs, and the Cordes Foundation, a champion of bold, innovative solutions to the world's toughest problems.

Lizzie Pollock, Assistant Director of Social Entrepreneurship, and MJ Kaplan ‘82, Adjunct Professor of Public Policy, will accept the award at the upcoming Ashoka U Exchange before an audience of 650 participants. The Ashoka U Exchange, hosted by Brown from February 20-22, 2014, will bring together 150 colleges and universities from forty countries to share best practices and advance social entrepreneurship in higher education.

“The purpose of the Ashoka U-Cordes Innovation Award is to highlight high impact, highly replicable educational models that create positive social and environmental impact,” says Ashoka U Executive Director Marina Kim. “Brown’s Social Innovation Fellowship and Leading Social Ventures class represent a thoughtful advancement in social venture support that will inspire many other colleges and universities to launch and grow social entrepreneurship programs on campus.”

The Social Innovation Fellowship and Leading Social Ventures course provide 15-20 students with a unique combination of extra-curricular and curricular support to build social ventures. The Fellows, which include Brown and RISD undergraduates as well as graduate students from the Taubman Center for Public Policy, receive funding to work on their venture full-time over a summer alongside two semesters of intensive skills training, mentorship, and a supportive community of peers and alumni. Leading Social Ventures is a complementary action-learning entrepreneurship course where ideas learned in the classroom can be immediately applied to their ventures. The course covers core concepts related to early stage venture development 0 including theories of change, cultural context, ethics, business model development, measurement, funding models, and leadership - and is open to all fellows as well as other students on campus working on a venture.

“My fellowship and work in Leading Social Ventures was a fantastic combination of experiential and academic learning. They worked as a feedback loop,” says Lauren Behgam ‘15, a co-founder of the Food Recovery Network, which received a $150,000 grant from the Sodexo Foundation last spring.  “For me, Leading Social Ventures was the academic backbone to the fellowship and a space to discuss challenges and successes with our professors and other students.”

MJ Kaplan ‘82, a key partner in the design and instruction of Leading Social Ventures, explains its unique approach: “Unlike most campus-based business accelerators, the goal of our fellowship extends beyond creating successful ventures. Instead it provides a formative educational experience that provides students with tools, knowledge, and perspectives they can apply to their lives and work regardless of their path. There are also very few undergraduate courses like Leading Social Ventures that expose students to an academic framework to learn about social entrepreneurship while they are leading a venture. Together, it's an experience that not only adds enormous value for our students but also presents a fresh national model for supporting young entrepreneurs.”

The Social Innovation Initiative was created in 2007 as a program of the Swearer Center for Public Service, which provides students at Brown with opportunities to explore their passions in the classroom and community, and build the skills, knowledge, and relationships necessary to lead lives of effective action.

“We see an increasing number of students eager to connect their passions and work in the community with their studies in the classroom," says Roger Nozaki, director of the Swearer Center. "The Social Innovation Initiative and new academic programs like TRI-Lab provide opportunities to define a path for real social impact alongside rigorous and reflective student learning.”

The Social Innovation Initiative was selected from 220 submissions as one of the six winners of the 2014 Ashoka U-Cordes Innovation Award. The five other 2014 awardees include: MICA’s Center for Design Practice; Work on Purpose, a program of Echoing Green; the Emzingo Group’s NexGen Fellowship Program; CityStudio in Vancouver, Canada; and MiddCORE at Middlebury College. Past award winners can be viewed on Ashoka U’s online Innovation Award Portal.