Harvard, York, and Oxford talk social innovation
March 21, 2013
University leaders compare models for supporting social innovation on campus and beyond
Cambridge, Mass. – March 21, 2013 – Leaders from Harvard University, York University, and the University of Oxford met on March 4 and 5 to articulate a shared vision of the role of higher education institutions in supporting social innovation and social enterprise.
The three universities explored their different models of institutional support for social innovation that promises to find solutions to the world’s most pressing social, environmental, and economic challenges.
Hosted by the Canadian High Commission in London, England, they were joined by the British High Commission (Canada), Young Foundation (UK), the Economic and Social Research Council (UK), the McConnell Family Foundation (Canada), and Social Innovation Generation (Canada).
Universities play an integral role in the intellectual, cultural, and economic development of their surrounding regions. In addition to producing new knowledge and talented graduates, universities contribute to innovation, productivity and prosperity through technology transfer and commercialization. However, the role of the university in the growing areas of social innovation and social entrepreneurship is still emerging.
Will Norman, Director of Research at the Young Foundation said, "Some faculty members and students have been active in helping find solutions to pressing social and environmental challenges; however, universities are not making the most of this potential. Universities need to become more effective and act systematically to maximize the impact of their research and teaching."
To date, Harvard, York, and Oxford have developed slightly varying approaches to the task.
At the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), students are educated in the process of 'design thinking' and problem solving within complex systems. Harvard’s undergraduate engineering degrees build on a strong foundation in the liberal arts, enabling students to apply a societal lens to design thinking for social innovation. An important partner for Harvard SEAS is the Harvard Innovation Lab.
“Our mission is to instill in our students the desire to seek out solutions and mitigations to complex global, economic, and environmental challenges,” said Fawwaz Habbal, Executive Dean of the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “Through our strong commitment to building students’ core technical competence, as well as enhancing their capacities for innovative thinking, leadership, and societal awareness, we prepare our students to make significant contributions to society.”
York University, under the leadership of Robert Haché, Vice President of Research and Innovation, provides unique services that support the development of social innovations arising from the research of faculty and students who work in collaboration with partners from the public and non-profit sectors.
"It is important that universities play a role in social innovation as we do in harnessing innovation in science and technology," Haché said. "The discussions started today by York and our colleagues at Harvard and Oxford will help to develop an international consensus on the roles of universities in leading and supporting initiatives in social innovation."
The Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, located within the University of Oxford's Saïd Business School, focuses on mainstreaming entrepreneurial approaches for social change throughout the School and the University through teaching, research and practice.
“While we award full scholarships to accomplished social entrepreneurs seeking to complete a one-year MBA,” noted Pamela Hartigan, Executive Director of the Skoll Centre, “we recognize that most students will not be entrepreneurs. Yet they can be ‘entrepreneuring’ wherever their careers take them. Our goal is to give them the exposure, the tools and the confidence to contribute their talents to improving the state of the world.”
Working under the banner of Relevance through Engagement, the universities identified three interconnected ways in which institutions of higher education can accelerate the development of social innovations:
- Applying knowledge and teaching to address real-world problems;
- Complementing traditional scholarship by working closely with research partners; and
- Continuing to develop established and emerging leaders of social innovation.
The three universities will develop relationships with national agencies, foundations and funders to explore each of these aspects so they can share and disseminate practices that will enhance each university's contributions to social innovation.