Social Innovation

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Globally, social innovation is on the rise — and the University at Buffalo is helping lead the way.

Society faces a multitude of challenges today due to a variety of issues that affect many people in our world. These systemic problems include lack of access to supportive health care and housing, climate change, lack of available food and poverty. In order to challenge these issues, organizations are bonding together to collaborate on possible resolutions; public, private, nonprofit and government agencies are working together to create a better future.

UB and the Schools of Social Work and Management recognize the importance of collaborating with others in order to solve problems, and for that reason social innovation has become a key initiative here. As we continue our ongoing collaboration with the School of Management, we enable our students to work with faculty from both schools, learn from students with different specialties and help to impact the future of our local and global communities, both socially and economically.

During an eight-week summer internship, pairs of students from the School of Social Work and School of Management work together with a mission-driven organization in Western New York. Faculty from both schools collaborate to teach students about entrepreneurial principles and defining social challenges, and the students put that knowledge to practice by developing a solution that addresses a systemic social issue facing their partner organization and the broader community.

social impact fellow students at the University Tool Library
students presenting in class

"We have a tendency to just stick with what works in the social work field...and in order to produce change we need to stop doing what just works and see what else works...This course has helped me in looking at the world differently."

- Victoria Roden, MSW '18

Social Sector Innovation Course

Student learning is central to the social innovation initiative driven by the School of Social Work and School of Management. Co-taught by faculty members from each school, the course gives students a comprehensive introduction to the social sector, the process of innovation and how to measure social impact, as well as real-life examples of organizations using social innovation to improve communities nationwide.

Creative Innovation Workshops

The School of Social Work and School of Management, in collaboration with the Blackstone LaunchPad at UB, have begun to offer a series of half-day workshops to undergraduate and graduate students from across campus. In one workshop, students receive an overview of the lean startup methodology and mission-driven business models, and then complete an exercise, modeled after Google sprints, to generate and present ideas for local nonprofits. These types of workshops continue to be offered each semester with a range of topics from social finance to entrepreneurship and beyond.  

student writing on poster board at innovation workshop
seth godin

Conference: Leading Innovation in the Social Sector, April 27, 2017

Joining leaders Seth GodinJ.P. & Ulla Bak, and numerous mission-driven organizations and leaders from the business, nonprofit and academic worlds, it was a day of no-excuses action, interaction and collaboration focused on social innovation and entrepreneurship. Attendees learned best practices from organizations that are changing the way business and goodness intersect and hear from nonprofits leading the way at this ‘unconference’ that won’t leave you bored behind a table.

Conference: Transformational Leadership and Entrepreneurial Thinking for Nonprofits: Moving from Surviving to Thriving Conference, September 22, 2014

This conference was for executive and senior management staff, their board members, as well as faculty and students. It helped launch them into a new way of entrepreneurial thinking and leadership strategy that is needed for nonprofits to thrive in the future. Expert speakers included Beth Kanter, international leader in nonprofits' use of social media, and co-author of Measuring the Networked Nonprofit, and Thomas Ulbrich, Assistant Dean, School of Management, and Executive Director, Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, University at Buffalo.

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