With a passion for thinking creatively and a desire to incite change, 16 students attended the Social Innovations Fellows program hosted by the Levitt Center from Jan. 8 - 12, gaining guidance on their own social innovation projects.
The program was led by Anke Wessels, executive director of the Center of Transformative Action at Cornell University. Unlike in traditional lecture courses, innovators participated in dynamic learning activities and discussions. The program was based on Wessels’ “Social Innovators and Entrepreneurship” course, which was recognized as one of the 10 best social entrepreneurship courses in the country in 2011 by the Ashoka Foundation.
Throughout the week, Wessels introduced different ways to plan ideas for change, including: System Thinking maps, which identify what variables can cause a problem to happen, and the Business Model Generator Canvas, a strategic management outline for building projects. Additionally, innovators learned about topics like the legal logistics behind social ventures and what it means to be a social innovator.
The innovators had projects of varying scales, designs, and purposes. Ken Fung ’21, for example, hopes to implement financial literacy classes for Hamilton students, covering topics such as building credit or budgeting. Sebastian Lissarrague ’18, Nico Yardas ’18, and Aaron Beguelin ‘18 plan to create a space in Utica for all graduates of local colleges and members of the city, allowing them to easily come together and foster socially conscious, sustainable economic development projects.
A few innovators also created projects on an international level, such as Emily De Jong ’19. She is currently working with a non-profit to hire local nurses from Haiti to educate village members on disease prevention methods, their healthcare options, and other ways of maintaining their health.
Kimberly Ly ’20, who is working with members Tiffany Ly ’20, Hyein Kim ’20, Ngoc Ngo ’20, and Michelle Chung ’20 on a project to increase the number of opportunities for reproductive health education in Vietnam, commented: “The way the program was structured allowed us to come with an idea and leave with a fully developed plan. Being able to focus on the project for a full week and discuss with other innovators who were working on their own projects provided a lot of support.”
At the end of the week, all innovators delivered project pitches to the group, getting feedback from a critical but supportive audience. Overall, the program’s participants learned how to make their dreams and ideas into reality, encouraging them to take the next steps in implementing social change.