New Social Innovation Fellows: Building Ventures and Community

January 28, 2014

What does it take to be a full-time student and social entrepreneur?

Sixteen students recently selected for the Social Innovation Fellowship began their journey as student social entrepreneurs with an off-campus retreat last weekend. The group includes undergraduate and graduate students from Brown and RISD who will spend the next year, as individuals and in teams, building ventures with social impact.

During the retreat, Fellows had a first glimpse into the complexities of translating their ideas for social change into reality. With visits from campus leaders as well as local professionals and former Fellows, they explored topics like giving and receiving feedback, defining a business model, delivering a pitch, and telling their personal story. The true power of the retreat however, came not from building skills but a sense of community among their peers.

"This weekend’s retreat made me realize not just how much I have to learn from the Fellowship Directors, but also from the other Fellows - all of whom are pursuing incredible ventures,” says Billy Watterson ‘15, founder of Beat the Streets - an organization that teaches the sport of wrestling to promote enrollment, engagement, and empowerment in local middle schools. “I am honored to be part of a group of such passionate social entrepreneurs and excited about what we can do together.

“We really want them to feel like they've entered this weekend as students with their own individual projects and left as a community of innovators,” says Fellowship Director Lizzie Pollock. 

This community-building begins with the application process itself, in which applicants are assigned advisors from a dedicated network of over 60 former fellows, alumni, entrepreneurs, faculty, and staff in order to support them through a rigorous proposal-writing process. It’s the start of special relationships and a long road for the chosen group, each of whom will receive funding to grow a social venture over the summer, supported by a year of intensive skills training, corresponding coursework, and a community of social entrepreneurs offering mentorship and critique. This co-curricular approach recently earned the Fellowship an Ashoka U-Cordes Innovation Award, which recognizes promising educational approaches in social entrepreneurship.

Formerly known as the C.V. Starr Fellowship, the Social Innovation Fellowship has expanded this year to include spots for two RISD Fellows and two Taubman Fellows, as well as a spot for a female Fellow working on issues of education, gender equality, public art and/or community development in memory of Leslie Miller Altman ‘75 P’08 (Jessica Brown ‘16).

Students don’t need a new idea to join the Fellowship; many are selected for “intrapreneurial” projects, which bring innovative ideas to existing organizations. Other projects in this year’s class include a network for first-generation college students at Ivy institutions, a series of workshops to support the heritage and livelihood of Egyptian female artisans, an outdoor leadership development program for high schoolers from Central Falls in Grand Canyon National Park, and the harvesting of cocoa beans in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Meet all of the Fellows and learn about their ventures on the Social Innovation Initiative website.