Social Innovation Collaboratory Connects Communities to Enact Change

The Social Innovation Collaboratory, a new office at the University of St. Thomas, will serve as a centralized resource for faculty, staff, students, alumni and community partners who are interested in social innovation. The Social Innovation Collaboratory also will support the university in its bid to become an Ashoka U Changemaker Campus.

The office will promote social innovation and entrepreneurship endeavors on campus that work to create sustainable solutions to entrenched and emerging social and environmental challenges. It will focus on unifying collaborations across the university by breaking down boundaries between disciplines and bringing together populations that might not interact otherwise. Another emphasis will be providing more co-curricular opportunities for students.

The Social Innovation Collaboratory work will support both the development of entrepreneurs and their ideas, as well as the promotion of already existing endeavors on campus.

"[We want to] enhance the existing opportunities at St. Thomas by creating new connections for people and by tying St. Thomas programs to a larger network," said Adam Kay, director of the Social Innovation Collaboratory.

Kay and assistant director Cynthia Sarver cited Brightside Produce and Sustainable Communities Partnership as two such examples of sustainable, successful programs that work within the local community.

The Social Innovation Collaboratory is a part of St. Thomas' work toward becoming an Ashoka U Changemaker Campus. Since early 2015, a team of St. Thomas faculty, staff and students has been taking steps toward earning the special designation granted by Ashoka, a nonprofit and the largest network of social entrepreneurs in the world. The designation, which is part of the Ashoka U program, recognizes colleges and universities that have embedded social innovation as a core value and showcase the ways in which they have built supportive environments for “changemaking” across the entire institution.

The Social Innovation Collaboratory was created in response to feedback from Ashoka, and will participate in a Dec. 8-9 Ashoka site visit. During the site visit, the Ashoka evaluation team will meet with more than 100 St. Thomas community members.

The St. Thomas team is hopeful that university will be designated a Changemaker Campus in early 2017.