The Summer of Social Innovation
As the School of Management (SOM) wrapped up its inaugural Social Innovation Conference in April 2023, assistant dean Laura Burgess was struck by the number of students who commented how enjoyable and interesting they found the event. The conference, which brought thought leaders and experts from Clark University and around the country for an impressive day of discussions on social innovation, was also a huge draw for students. Their interest is what prompted Burgess to create a non-credit summer Social Innovation Certificate program whereby a select group of students could delve more deeply into social innovation topics and in a more hands-on way.
“Social innovation is a perfect fit with the mission of our business school,” Burgess began. “I wanted to find a way to expose students to local organizations, large and small, for- and non-profits, engaged in social impact initiatives that particularly address the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s).”
According to the World Economic Forum, social innovation is “the application of innovative, practical, sustainable, business-like approaches that achieve positive social and/or environmental change.” The School of Management, one of less than 5% of business schools accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, is a signatory to the United Nations’ Principles for Responsible Education and ascribes to the United Nations SDG’s.
The students’ first road trip in the program was to the Community Harvest Project, a non-profit farm that grows and donates fruits and vegetables to hunger relief. They met with the executive director Tori Buerschaper, who explained her role and how she uses her business education to now make a great impact in the community. The students also got the chance to – quite literally! – get their hands dirty by weeding and helping to plant new crops. Somewhat related, the second experience brought the group together with SOM alumna Georgia Ferguson, currently the director of buying and product sourcing for The Daily Table, a non-profit Boston-area grocer founded by the former president of Trader Joe’s. It provides healthy food options at a cost that is at least 30% less than traditional grocery stores. Students learned about The Daily Table’s business model, the complexity of food pricing, and the organization’s role in combating food insecurity in its communities.
“The Community Harvest Project experience impacted me the most,” stated Amanda Edson, a part-time dual MBA / MS-Finance student and one of the 13 students who took part. “It was so hands-on and I left feeling fulfilled – like I was truly a part of the organization’s values and mission.”
After taking in the Tony Award winning play, The Lehman Trilogy, the story that shines a spotlight on the rise and fall of Lehman Brothers, the students discussed the ethics of the accounting gimmicks that were purported to have been used to mask financial issues the company was facing before it famously collapsed into bankruptcy.
As a licensed real estate agent, Edson was not surprised by the approach of the Lehman Brothers, but by “watching the Lehman Brothers play through the lens of responsible banking for creating economic growth and work opportunities, we were able to examine banking practices and policies impacting economic growth and, in a broader sense, many other parts of society.”
A visit from another SOM alumna, MBA/ES&P dual degree earner Robin Miller, who is the senior ESG stewardship analyst at Geode Capital Management, was next on the students’ schedule. Miller shed light on her work and how positions such as hers, as a true “steward” for societal change, can push for-profit companies to consider their role in addressing societal and environmental issues. Miller’s visit was followed by a trip to meet Clark alumna Anjelica Gonzalez, assistant director of evaluation and learning at Roca, Inc. New England. Roca’s mission is to be a force in disrupting incarceration, poverty, and racism by engaging young adults, police, and systems at the center of urban violence. They aim to address trauma, find hope, and drive change through their unique cognitive behavioral therapy approach. Gonzalez’s role lies in the research and data analysis the organization uses to create those approaches, ultimately toward societal change.
“Through my studies, I have gained valuable knowledge and skills that I believe could benefit organizations like Roca in the future,” observed MS-Marketing student Mukesh Gutta, as he thought about his future career. “My expertise in data analysis and program evaluation could help these organizations in measuring the impact of their initiatives and refining their strategies to even better align with their missions.”
The culminating trip for the group was a visit to Leader Bank, where SOM alumnus Sandeep Jain, vice president commercial loan officer, met with the group and introduced bank president Jay Tuli. As an admirer of Leader Bank’s mission to support minority owned businesses, and the fantastic alumni connection with Jain, Burgess felt that having the students understand how a financial institution can impact its community in a positive way was important. The students found it a fascinating visit.
“ESG investing has emerged as a prominent approach for organizations seeking to create a positive impact on society while achieving financial success,” noted Bella Che, an MS in finance student. “The Leader Bank visit shed light on the innovative practices and strategies employed by modern firms to align their businesses with social and environmental responsibilities.”
As the program ended, Burgess asked the students if they would consider further examining any of the topics discussed during the program through an upcoming fall course assignment or project.
“Yes! For example, in my marketing courses, I could explore strategies for promoting social enterprises and non-profit organizations,” Gutta said. “In my policy analysis class, I can delve deeper into evaluating the effectiveness of poverty alleviation programs.”
When reflecting on the program, Gutta added, “This program has been a life-changing and enlightening experience that has increased my awareness of social concerns and motivated me to be a more involved and socially conscious person.”
Sounds like a true Clark business school graduate.
Students who took part in the program include:
Shruti Agarwal, MBA
Amanda Edson, MBA
Bella Che, MS-Finance
Rosalia Dmelio, MSMK
Durvesh Gurjar, MS-Finance
Mukesh Gutta, MS-Marketing
Yangfan Hu, MS-Accounting Analytics
Vanshika Kahaliya, MS Business Analytics
Sahan Maharjan, MS-Finance
Saifkhan Maniyar, MBA
Saubhagya Mishra, MS-Marketing Analytics
Shrishti Rana, MS-Project Management
Dharoov Verma, MBA