Social Innovation

Dylan McCaffrey, a business administration student, with schoolchildren in Tanzania during a social innovation-focused experiential learning trip.

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

All around us, organizations in the private, public, nonprofit and government sectors are coming together to provide social and economic value, and to tackle some of society's greatest challenges. Poverty and injustice, access to affordable housing and quality health care, climate change and sustainable food sourcing are a few of the significant issues facing society. Individually, one organization cannot tackle these sweeping challenges alone, and business must play a role in helping to find solutions.

For those reasons, social innovation is an important strategic initiative at UB and in the School of Management. In the spirit of collaboration, we've embarked a truly interdisciplinary partnership with the UB School of Social Work, allowing action-oriented students from each discipline to learn from each other's diverse backgrounds, work with faculty from both schools and make an impact on our local and global community.

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.

Through experiential learning trips to such countries as Ghana and Tanzania, students have the opportunity to learn about diverse cultures, see firsthand issues facing people around the world and surround themselves with social innovation. Through these experiences, students will gain a global perspective and new skills that will help them stand out in today's business world.

Social Sector Innovation Course

Student learning is central to the social innovation initiative driven by the School of Management and School of Social Work. 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.

The School of Management and School of Social Work, in collaboration with the Blackstone LaunchPad at UB, offered a series of half-day workshops to undergraduate and graduate students from across campus. Students received an overview of the lean startup methodology and mission-driven business models, and then completed an exercise, modeled after Google sprints, to generate and present ideas for local nonprofits.