‘I WANT TO BE A CHANGE AGENT’
One of them is University of New Hampshire’s Jill Howard. The junior business administration student took advantage of the school’s option to self-design a major and decided to create a track for herself in social innovation and enterprise.
“I think the reason why I decided to design an option for myself was because I knew I was interested in social innovation and I wanted something that would best prepare me for that job that I wanted,” she says. Howard’s interest in social impact stems back to high school where she first realized there was a way to combine her interest in business with her love for volunteerism and helping people.
“For people looking into college or business school, I think they should keep an open mind about what business could be. We have this idea of older white men sitting in boardrooms on Wall Street. That can be true, but there are also a lot of cool things you can do with business. I’ve come across social activists who were anti-business and anti-capitalism, but business makes the world go round. If we want to make real sustainable change in the world, we have to harness the power of the for-profit sector. It’s a very powerful way to be an agent of change. I want to be a change agent.”
A SEMESTER IN DIVERSITY & INCLUSION
What Howard describes is the very definition of social impact and social innovation which is the act of harnessing business-based approaches to bring about social change. The focus of this change is at the systemic level and therefore looks at broad, large-scale issues such as poverty, climate change, access to education, diversity and inclusion, clean water, and sanitation.
For business school students, what does this look like in action?
At the University of New Hampshire — in addition to the create-your-own-lane study option — there are initiatives like Semester in the City. Delivered through UNH’s partnership with the non-profit, College for Social Innovation, Semester in the City is a full semester, 16-credit experiential learning experience where students spend four days a week inside a social change organization and one day a week in a classroom setting doing reflection as well as honing their professional development skills.
Now in its fourth semester, the school says it is based on the premise of learning by doing. The school provides apartment housing in a nearby city and students move there for 15 weeks to live and work in a social change capacity. Howard spent the fall 2017 academic semester living in Boston and working at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce on their economic growth team through the program.
“Oh my gosh, it was amazing,” she says. “I had the chance to get real experience, I made some really great connections in Boston, and it was definitely a challenge.”
Howard’s days with the Boston chamber centered on diversity and inclusion (D&I). What started out as designing a playbook on D&I in the business world and how Boston businesses can best tackle it, turned into a report she presented to the chamber on what the real issues were in the business world and steps that could be taken to make real impact.
“My number one takeaway when it comes to D&I is that people are all talk and no action,” Howard explains. “They’ll come out and say they’re trying all these things, but no one’s heart is behind it and there are no real or measurable actions. My recommendations included instituting metrics for success and consequences for failure. People need to be docked pay or fired if they don’t meet expectations, there needs to be accountability to it, and bonuses if it goes well.”
Howard spoke to a dozen companies around Boston, interviewing them about their experiences with D&I, things that worked, didn’t work, and biggest frustrations. “From those conversations, I was able to shape ideas,” she says. “It’s such a daunting topic and it was a lot of work, but in the end, I learned that I can contribute to the world and some of these issues in a meaningful way.”
SOCIAL INNOVATION AT UNH
UNH was the founding university partner of College for Social Innovation and recently became the University of Record for Semester in the City, allowing students from any four year college or University to participate in it and transfer UNH credit back to their home institution. At UNH specifically, it is housed within the Center for Social Innovation and Enterprise, an academic center that launched after school officials say they were seeing an appetite for social innovation from students around 2013. The center is a joint venture between the college of business and the university’s school of public policy.
“Historically universities are very siloed,” Wilson says. “The reason we focus on being interdisciplinary is because these problems are big and complex. Effective solutions will only come through cross sector collaborations and different expertise coming together around these common agendas.”
In addition to events such as a social innovation venture challenge where students submit ideas for market-based solutions to address one or more sustainable goals, the center houses a Summer innovation internship program offering.
“It’s an opportunity for students to go deeper,” Wilson points out. “They’re paired with a social innovation organization for nine weeks over the summer and they work on a strategic problem.”
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