'The Experience Was Beyond Rewarding' -- Warren '09 Reflects on Swearer Center Residency

by Scott Warren '09, 2017 Social Entrepreneur in Residence
August 1, 2017

Scott Warren '09 returned to Brown this spring as a Swearer Center Social Entrepreneur in Residence, an appointment that provides entrepreneurial social change senior leaders a chance to reflect, explore academic and research insights and pursue new ideas in their areas of interest. Warren is the founder of Generation Citizen, a nonprofit that inspires youth to participate in politics by providing action civics education. He has since stayed on as co-founder and CEO. After completing his residency, which included teaching a course at Brown, Warren wrote a reflection on his role:

"Attending Brown was one of the greatest privileges of my life -- I learned to think critically about my role in the world, made life-long friendships and connections, and gained access to resources and knowledge that continue to serve me in a professional capacity. It was an experience that taught me so much that I felt that I had to give back to the institution.  

At Brown, I participated extensively in anti-genocide activism related to the atrocities in Darfur, Sudan, helping to lead a national organization, and working on efforts to convince Brown, the City of Providence and the State of Rhode Island to divest their assets from international companies doing business in Sudan. After spending the first three years at Brown immersed in this activism, I founded an organization called Generation Citizen during my senior year of college. 

The son of a Foreign Service Officer, a childhood spent abroad in countries like Argentina, Kenya and Ecuador, had convinced me of the power, and fragility, of democracy.  I witnessed Kenya’s first free and fair elections in 2002, saw a coup in Ecuador in 2005, and observed violent run-off elections in Zimbabwe in 2008, where my parents moved to when I started Brown.  In Providence, I saw that young people were passionate about making change, but did not see politics as the best way to affect change.  There are many reasons for this unfortunate reality -- one is that we simply do not teach civics in schools anymore.  I started Generation Citizen in an attempt to bring civics back to the classroom, and make it action-oriented and relevant.

After founding it while graduating, I have spent the last seven years building up the organization -- we now work with over 10,000 students in six states throughout the country.  I decided to become a Social Entrepreneur in Residence in the Spring of 2017 to reflect on my work to date, engage in research and most importantly, engage once again with Brown students.  The experience was beyond rewarding.  I engaged in comprehensive research on democracy that I am continuing, worked with individual students on their entrepreneurial endeavors, participated in numerous workshops in the community, and greatly enjoyed teaching a seminar.

Research: Part of being a Social Entrepreneur in Residence entailed that I work on a discrete project during my time at Brown. Inspired from living abroad during my childhood, I engaged in research to make an empirical case for democracy, and the importance of individual citizen participation.  Specifically, I began to explore whether individual democratic participation leads to stronger social and economic outcomes.  This included attempting to define democracy, exploring this specific moment in our democracy, investigating the empirical affects of democracy on social and economic outcomes, and finding different local innovations from across the world that can promote the practice.  I met with numerous Brown professors to help guide this research, and provide recommendations of papers to further the work.

I am continuing the research post-fellowship, working to publish either a long, journal paper, or turn it into a book.  The research has also led to the possibility of a broader democracy initiative, and I am investigating working with Brown to continue this work.  Specifically, I want to see if the research on the importance of democracy can be actualized, bridging the gap between researchers and practitioners.

Talks at Brown: I engaged in numerous conversations with the wider Brown community during my time at Brown, some formal, and some informal.  I articulated some of the aforementioned research in a widely viewed talk at the Watson Institute entitled: 'Educating for Democracy: The Prospects and Importance for Civics Education in the Era of Trump and Brexit.'  Additionally, I worked with Brown faculty and administration to plan a series entitled 'What’s Next?' allowing for conversations and specific steps that Brown students can take to channel post-election anxiety. I also worked with the President’s office to begin planning for a 'Day of Action,' which is scheduled to occur in the fall.  

Finally, I guest-taught in numerous classes at Brown, including sociology courses related to programmatic evaluation, a philosophy based-course that was one of my favorites when I was a student (Shaping World Views), and other courses in the public policy department.

Teaching a Seminar: The most rewarding experience has been teaching my class, entitled 'Social Entrepreneurship, Policy, and Systems Change.'  Reflecting on my work with Generation Citizen and Darfur activism, as well as my efforts to affect long-lasting change, the class explored how and why we as individuals engage in social change work, and how best to achieve systems-level change.  Every week, my 27 students and I engaged in dynamic conversations, exploring different organizations and pathways to change, aided by guest speakers like the Rhode Island Treasurer and other social entrepreneurs.  

To complete the course, all students completed a final presentation, in which they worked in groups to investigate a local Rhode Island public problem (transit, criminal justice, education, climate change and homelessness), interviewed community members and politicians, and provided recommendations on ways to improve the problem.   I frequently met with students between classes, and appreciated how much they dove into the material throughout.

Next Steps: The time at Brown is officially over, but it has impacted me as I move forward in my own career.  Specifically, I am building on the research and looking into building a democracy renewal initiative (which may be housed at Brown), and am looking to continue teaching my course at other universities (probably Tufts in the spring).

Overall, as I continue working at Generation Citizen, I am beyond grateful for the residency at Brown, which allowed me to reflect, further my own work, and engage with incredibly impressive and inspiring Brown students."

To read more about Warren, visit our People page