A Think Tank on Social Innovation and Civic Engagement

Washington University in St. Louis and Duke University sponsored a think tank focused on the relationship between social innovation and civic engagement in higher education, hosted on the Washington University Danforth campus.


The convening emerged from the arguments made by Amanda Moore McBride and Eric Mlyn in their February 2015 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education regarding the role of civic engagement in any social change effort, including social innovation. The response to the article was supportive from both scholars and practitioners of social innovation and civic engagement, yet all asked how can higher education better knit the two approaches together. This think tank was a response to that call.

"There isn't a bright line of distinction between education around social innovation and around civic engagement. We can distinguish between elements of practice, but not people and the knowledge set." -- Andrew Seligsohn, President, Campus Compact

"Martin Luther King never delivered the 'I have a business plan' speech." - Sandra Enos, Bryant University

"How do we bring innovation to the public sector? The government is the largest funder of research and civic engagement efforts, so what role should it play? I encourage people to think about going into government as a way to make change." -- Sonal Shah, Executive Director of the Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation at Georgetown University.

"You have the tools inside your universities to create change, you just have to unlock them." -- Tony Wells, The Wells Foundation

"I encourage students to stop, reflect, journal, think about next steps and how to apply acquired wisdom." -- David Scobey, Visiting Scholar, School of Education, University of Michigan and former Dean and Professor of the New School for Public Engagement

"How do we build curriculum around civic engagement? Is this a rigorous field? Does it have real standing?" -- Eric Mlyn, Executive Director of DukeEngage and the Assistant Vice Provost for Civic Engagement.

"How do we support the whitebelts, yellowbelts, and greenbelts of social change, in addition to the blackbelts? -- Marina Kim, Co-founder, AshokaU

"The challenge before us is to be much more intentional and careful with our work. We need to be more goal-directed, more focused, and more driven by assessment and real data." -- Amanda Moore McBride, Gephardt Institute Executive Director

Read more tweets from the event.

The program for the proceedings provides insights about the speakers, attendees, and the topic at hand.

The think tank explored:

  • Social, economic, and political issues driving the ascendency of these two approaches
  • The status of social innovation and civic engagement in higher education
  • The unique roles of the public and private sector in driving these approaches and what contributions they would to see from higher education
  • Ways forward that train the next generation of social change leaders

A think tank is different from a conference or a symposium. It convenes those who are experts on various dimensions of an issue to discuss, debate, and assert a way forward. Convened for this think tank were scholars, administrators, innovators, investors, and students. The premium is on their exchange. The event inspired and informed how we teach social change, respectively strengthening the social innovation and civic engagement movements in higher education. The think tank would not be possible without co-sponsors, including Washington University’s George Warren Brown School of Social Work, the Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and the Center for Social Development. Campus Compact is also co-sponsoring the think tank, broadcasting it as a webinar that is free and open to the public. Think tank themes and conclusions will inform planning for the 2016 Ashoka U Changemaker Conference, and select presentations may be included in an issue of Diversity & Democracy, published by the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Campus Compact facilitated live-streaming of the presentations.
Session 1 | Social Innovation and Civic Engagement in Higher Education
Session 2 | Views of Social Change: What the Public and Private Sectors would like Higher Education to Develop
Plenary Speaker: Kristin Hayden, Founder, OneWorld Now!
Session 3 | Building and Informing a Field