COVE Sponsors Social Innovation in New York City

James Carroll

During the week of spring break, the Max A. Shacknai Center for Outreach, Volunteerism, and Education (COVE) offered a social innovation and entrepreneurship trip to New York City for students. Planned and led by COVE Director Krista Saleet and Associate Professor of Economics Nicole Simpson, the trip was intended to expose students to the growing trend of social innovation in a variety of real world settings. Over the course of the week, students on the trip met with about 15 different companies and discussed their socially responsible practices. The companies ranged from philanthropic consulting firms to small non-profit organizations to J.P. Morgan Chase, so students were exposed to an extremely diverse set of socially innovative practices.

In a nutshell, social innovation, as was examined by the students, can be categorized as the development of business strategies or models that meet a societal need, such as public health or environmental conservation. A key characteristic of socially innovative businesses is a “double bottom line.” In addition to the conventional bottom line that measures financial success or loss, many of the businesses that the students on the trip visited sought a second way to measure their performance, usually focusing on social or environmental impact. There is a growing movement of businesses adopting second or even third bottom lines to ensure a positive impact outside of their profit margins, and a number of businesses that were visited stressed that social innovation stands as “the way of the future.” As the twenty-first century continues to progress, socially responsible and innovative businesses will be the norm rather than the exception.

Students on the trip visited organizations that handled the task of social innovation in different ways. Arabella Advisors, a consulting firm designed with the goal of providing a platform for philanthropists to plug into in order to make the most out of their money, primarily focuses on providing logistical support and resources to people or groups looking to donate their money. Do Something, a non-profit focused on motivating teens to get involved in volunteering projects, runs monthly campaigns that tackle different issues identified by teenagers in an effort to get them motivated. J.P. Morgan Chase, one of the largest asset management and financial service holding companies in the world, provides funds to emerging markets through what it calls its “impact investing” program with the goal of facilitating economic development in the global south while also receiving substantial returns on their investments.

The these three companies provide a snapshot of the ten companies that these students visited, which provided a diverse and comprehensive sense of the social innovation movement; which reaches from consulting to nonprofits to multinational banks, and all companies in between.

“I think I learned a lot about what the next trends will be in the sense that a lot of the start-ups we visited are companies that target new markets. But visiting some of the more established companies also gave us a sense of how a large organization works,” sophomore Ethan Liu said.

“I personally joined this trip because I was interested in learning more about how for-profit companies incorporate social responsibility initiatives into their business structure and day-to-day operations,” sophomore Mike McCluskey said. “I learned a lot about how many companies are making a push to develop the concept of having a double or triple bottom line where their business strives to make both financial gains as well as a positive difference in society,” McCluskey said.

The COVE’s trip over spring break introduced students to what appears to be a paradigm shift in the way people do business. Rather than turning a profit at the expense of being socially responsible, it appears that the companies that students visited show how they are able to turn a profit due to their being socially responsible.

The trip ties together with the COVE’s recent social innovation and entrepreneurship programming, which this semester has consisted of a week-long seminar with a professor from Cornell University and a series of guest speakers involved in socially-minded business.

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