Eight months after its launch, the Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation has taken steps to entrench itself in the Washington, D.C., community and to increase its interactions with the student community at Georgetown.
Beeck Center Director Sonal Shah, former deputy assistant to the president and founding director of the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, noted that the center had engaged with organizations in D.C. to widen its social impact.
This summer, the center was approached by the Department of Education to collaborate on President Barack Obama’s new initiative My Brother’s Keeper, a push to close the opportunity gap that young men of color face.
“It gave students a lot of exposure to senior officials in government,” Shah said.
“Data is always seen as a top down thing: Here is what the government is going to do for you. … But [this could] change the conversation about how can you use the data to do something different for yourself.”
Work on the initiative involved several meetings with Georgetown students and professors, D.C. community members, high school students and teachers and principals from Ward 7 and Ward 8. Last week several groups from the team presented their updates to Jim Shelton, the executive director of the My Brother’s Keeper initiative.
“None of us went in with an idea of what the right answer was, what we went in with was an idea that if we put some interesting people together some new ideas would come out of it, and that’s what social innovation is about: how do we think about the same problems in a different way,” Shah said.
The center has aimed to expand its impact on campus as well. Paul Schmitz, the former director of Public Allies, an organization focused on encouraging leadership among young adults in low-income communities, joined the center as the Innovator in Residence.
Schmitz leads a seminar called “Leadership for Social Change,” the first session of which discussed 25 individuals surrounding Martin Luther King Jr., each of whom had to successfully fulfill their role in order for King to emerge as a national figure. The seminar is open to any students who want to join.
In addition to working with the wider D.C. community, the center has also attempted to engage more with Georgetown students, recently creating a board of 12 students to help design programming for the center.
“We want to be cross disciplinary and we want to work with people, we don’t want to be seen as a stand-alone center, so if we can do something with the Center for Social Justice, or the Berkley Center or [GU] Women in Leadership … we would be happy to work with anyone,” Shah said.
The Beeck Center has plans to participate in a competition sponsored by the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation.
Additionally, Shah said that University of Southern California American Muslim Civic Leadership Institute Director and Co-Founder Nadia Roumani will lead a guest seminar on design thinking.
The center has also forged a relationship with the Social Innovation and Public Service Fund, which has a $1.25 million endowment, to invest in projects that have ranged from starting community gardens in D.C., to building cooking stoves in Rwanda.
SIPS Fund Executive Director Naman Trivedi (SFS ’16) said he hopes that the fund’s relationship with the Beeck Center would expand opportunities for grants to be offered.
The SIPS Fund partnered with the Beeck Center to co-sponsor a Social Innovation Competition in February.
Additionally, SIPS has given out grants ranging in size from $300 to $13,000 to support students’ social innovation projects in D.C. and around the world.
“In the future we may try to start talking to the Beeck Center about incubating some of our projects because the Beeck Center is very well connected, not only at Georgetown, but also in D.C. as far as nonprofits go,” Trivedi said.
Caroline Egan (COL ’15), co-chair of the Beeck Center’s student board, said that she hopes that as the center moved forward, it would engage students in entrepreneurship and create sustained relationships.
“We get driven into tracts that are deemed successful, be that medicine, law, consulting, politics, etc.,” Egan said.“What happens unfortunately is you have all these bright people who only go down certain paths and what we are hoping to do at the Beeck Center is essentially help them see that there are other things out there, things that you may not at first think about but are equally lucrative and much more engaging.”