Universities like Georgetown serve as gathering places for amazing collections of active and open minds. The world owes a great deal to these fervent and energizing environments. Few go a day in 2012 without taking advantage of something conceived of and developed in a dorm room at Stanford or Harvard (Think Facebook). We owe developments in medical research and science to places like Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But where is Georgetown on that list?
This university is unlikely to be the birthplace of the next great piece of hardware or a revolutionary social network, but Georgetown is still a place for innovation. In fact, we not only have the potential to be innovators but also are also uniquely positioned to be at the forefront of a category of our own: social innovation.
Society tends to emphasize the value of one field of thinking at a time. For much of the 20th century, the best and the brightest in this country were thinking about economics. With the birth of the Internet, the focus shifted to technology. Today, we see a future where the best minds this country has to offer will be engaged in forming innovative solutions to social problems and doing good in the world. To think like a social innovator means to think about ways to better be men and women for others — an area where Georgetown students are poised to shine.
There are a few steps between where we are now and where we could be. We need to think of where we can apply ourselves creatively in the disciplines in which we already excel. Picture government majors doing hard-hitting research on education or welfare policy here in the District. Internationally minded students can use their talents to think of effective solutions for the hands-on implementation of development policies. Students in the School of Nursing and Health Studies ought to be on the front lines of health projects around the globe, while business students need to take advantage of opportunities to extend what they learn in the classroom in new and creative ways using their liberal arts backgrounds to focus on ethics and practice. Georgetown is uniquely positioned to offer this sort of social innovation — but only if the resources are available and the right culture exists.
This is where the Social Innovation and Public Service Fund enters the conversation. Two years ago, a group of students asked, “How can Georgetown better put into practice its Jesuit value of men and women for others?” Today, the SIPS Fund is a $1.5 million student-run endowment and community eager to be part of the answer to that question. By putting our resources behind social innovation, we have taken the first step toward making it a hallmark of the Georgetown experience.
This semester marks the beginning of SIPS’s journey. As the executive committee, it is our responsibility to take the resources we have and directly invest in Georgetown students and our ideas. SIPS’ goal is twofold. First, we aim to use our resources to lower the barriers to doing good in the world. Students with great ideas can come to us for grants or loans to kick-start or amplify their social impact. Second, we imagine a community of students, alumni and faculty all working together out of support for Georgetown’s central mission of forming men and women for others. SIPS will also be a central pool of human resources. That’s a look at our job. The rest is up to the passion and talents of Georgetown, and we’d take that bet any day.
ETHAN CHESS is a junior in the College. He is director of communications of SIPS. TYLER SAX is a senior in the College. He is managing director of SIPS.