Last week, I sat down with Social Enterprise Initiative (SEI) Director Christina Hachikian to learn more about her new lab class, Scaling Social Innovation. But what I took away from our discussion was so much more. I left with a deeper appreciation for the huge challenges that social sector institutions face to scale their work in order to make impactful sustainable changes, and for the myriad ways SEI equips students and alumni to make an impact in the social space. Proving yet again… Booth is so much more than a finance school!
Professor Hachikian began our conversation by describing a struggle many students face: balancing a passion to contribute to the social sector with a desire to pursue a career in this space. Whether students want to be a social entrepreneur, serve on a board or engage in meaningful volunteerism, or pursue a career in the social sector, the Social Enterprise Initiative at Booth gives students the education, resources, and exposure to different paths of involvement in the social sector—so that they can strike their personal balance.
The mission of SEI is to build upon the foundations of the Chicago Approach, using strong analytical skills and frameworks to make sense of complex data, turning inquiry and ideas into impact, and preparing students for where the social sector is headed. To do that, SEI is constantly furthering research on how institutions can help solve social problems. Additionally, the center designs courses specifically geared toward applying those frameworks to the unique challenges of the social sector.
One of those unique challenges became the inspiration for Professor Hachikian’s new class, co-taught by Professor Robert Gertner. Research through SEI and her experience in the sector showed that many social enterprises did not have disciplined processes for innovation or development of new solutions; and further struggled to bring successful solutions to scale beyond their home communities.
In Scaling Social Innovation, students confront the enormous challenge that social sector institutions face to understand exactly what makes a social innovation effective and how to scale it to deliver impact in many communities and serve many beneficiaries. Students work in teams to identify special social issues and collaborate with an organization outside of Chicago that has developed a successful program that addresses the issue. The team then comes up with a strategy to bring that social innovation to Chicago. Essentially, students are tasked with solving this huge question: how do you scale social innovations?
To help me understand exactly what that meant, Professor Hachikian described one group’s progress thus far in the class:
One group is focusing on “summer learning loss,” the problem that knowledge learned during the school year is lost over the summer break. A problem that is growing as school budget cuts are prompting administrations to consider shortening the school year even further. The team has completed academic research, spoken with experts, and looked at historically used solutions for this problem. Then they will narrow their focus to three innovations with potential and prove the viability of each to scale. Ultimately the students will develop a data-driven strategy to scale one of these programs to the Chicago community.
If that isn’t an incredible opportunity for students, I’m not sure what is.