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Seeking social innovation
October 8, 2008
A new program on campus encourages students to use what they've learned in the classroom to develop innovative ways to address some of society's most persistent problems.
Dees, who has an extensive resume of working with social entrepreneurship programs at schools including Harvard, Stanford and Yale, praised the new program at St. Olaf as filling an essential need in the community and world. "We desperately need innovative solutions to social problems, and I believe programs like this plant the seeds for entrepreneurship," he says.
The goal of the Social Innovation Program is to provide inspiration and concrete resources for students interested in innovative ways to promote social change. One of the ways the program will aid students is through a new group called Oles Advancing Social Innovation and Sustainability (OASIS). OASIS will gather students, staff, faculty and alumni together for monthly lectures, site visits and group projects to develop strategies to address the social problems in the community and the world.
Another aspect of the program will be internship offerings, including one over interim at the London School of Social Entrepreneurship. Thor Steinhovden '09 participated in the London internship last year and said the experience inspired him to seek out opportunities for social change in his desired career field.
"I think there's a lot of idealism on campus," he says. "Oles in general want careers that have meaning; they're not just looking for money-making jobs. At the same time we're pushed to think independently and innovatively here, and I think bringing that all together in a program like this is something that will spark a lot of attention."
Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Coordinator Kris Estenson says one of the draws of the program is the fact that students of all majors and interests can apply social innovation to any field of study.
"The program challenges students to think how they can address social change using all of the different disciplines they've been exposed to. Social entrepreneurship isn't a field that's just ascribed to a particular major. The idea is that all of us on campus can use what we've learned in class to address social problems in the world," she says.
The program is still developing and may even include a second semester class on social innovation called "Ideals to Action: Cultivating Social Change." Estenson asks that students watch for information as the program becomes more defined.
"I encourage people to be patient with the program as we come to define what it should look like on campus, but also to engage in the opportunities we have to offer because it's a really exciting new field," she says.