Harvard has always been a breeding ground for new and innovative ideas but in recent years, people interested in social entrepreneurship and innovation lacked organized forums and outlets to share and explore their ideas. That is all changing this year, as Harvard added a new social innovation class at the Business School that will count for a United States in the World credit, the Innovation Lab just opened its doors in Allston, and, on October first, the second annual Igniting Innovation Summit will be hosted in Boylston, with college kids from all over the country will come to participate in interactive panels and workshops with some of the leaders of social innovation today. Hopefully these events will inspire Harvard students and faculty alike to get more involved in ideas pertaining to social innovation, as it is an exciting new field that transforms simple ideas into projects that have the potential to do worlds of good.
It was inspiring to see so many Harvard students trek to the business school to shop U.S. in the World 36: Innovation and Entrepreneurship – American Experience in Comparative Perspective. The class, taught by HBS Professors Mihir Desai and Joseph B. Lassiter is a case-study and discussion based class where students debate different ideas and projects in social innovation, aiming to answer the question “How can innovation and entrepreneurship address the major challenges facing the world?” Throughout the semester, students will work in groups to design their own social innovation project under the guidance of a social business. “I thought the class would be a great opportunity to learn from others' experiences in the profit and non-profit world that I could implement to help make the orphanage I work with in Kenya more efficient and better organized,” Alex Breinin ’12, states. “I think the best and most successful non-profits are run like businesses.”
A huge resource for students in the class (and any Harvard faculty or student interested in social innovation) will be the I-Lab, which just opened its doors this year. Located in Allston, the I-Lab is an “innovative initiative that will foster team-based and entrepreneurial activities.” It will host talks on social innovation initiatives, and it will be a forum for workshops and ideas for people across the university.
Perhaps the most exciting progress Harvard has made in social innovation comes from the initiatives of the undergraduates who recognize the importance and potential of this relatively new field. Kara Kubarych, Smitha Ramakrishna, and Ryan Heffrin are the founders of the Social Innovation Collaborative, whose goal is to bring together students across the university interested in exchanging ideas on social innovation. Kubarych saw the merits of social innovation a few years ago when she helped launch Nika Water, a socially conscious water brand that donates a share of the proceeds to clean-water projects in the developing world. Right now SIC is working on getting a concentration or at least a secondary field officially recognized by Harvard and it already has the support of HBS professor David L. Ager and HKS professor and director of Harvard Leadership Institute, David R. Gergen.
On October 1, SIC will put on the Igniting Innovation Summit, an event that features over 40 speakers and will host 200 students in a day-long series of interactive panels, forums and activities focused on some of the biggest ideas in social innovation today. “The Summit is more than just an event. It embodies our organization’s mission to foster collaboration—to serve as a nexus between the many projects that can be considered social innovations, from green tech to childhood nutrition programs to water filtration systems,” Kubarych says. “The more that people can learn from one another, work together, gain mentors and supporters, and scale their ideas, the more impact they are able to have.”
Not only is the conference the largest and first undergraduate run event dedicated to the topic of social entrepreneurship, but it will also be a uniquely hands-on conference. Heffrin states “Unlike typical conferences where participants are sitting all day, the Summit features action workshops in the afternoon, such as yoga, art, and dance, with local social enterprises that use those same activities to create positive change.”
Hopefully Harvard undergraduates will begin to take advantage of these unique opportunities that encourage students to apply their skills and talents to innovative projects in the developing world.
Meredith C. Baker ’13, a Crimson editorial writer, is a social studies concentrator in Eliot House. Her column appears on alternate Thursdays.
If you are interested in learning more about the Igniting Innovation Summit, you can visit its website at: www.hcs.harvard.edu/summit2011.