Impact At Scale

The Beeck Center engages global leaders to drive social change at scale.

Sonal Shah Beeck Center Social Impact and Innovation

Sonal’s Corner: A Special End of School Year Letter from our Executive Director

By: Sonal Shah, Executive Director

“The vital power of an imaginative work demands a diversity within its unity; and the stronger the diversity, the more massive the unity.”

~ Dorothy L. Sayers

This past February, the Beeck Center celebrated its one year anniversary at Georgetown. It’s been an exciting and busy year, as we transitioned from building our Center from the ground-up to exploring new ways to drive social impact and innovation at scale.

Within Georgetown and with the broader community, we led a number of events and efforts designed to promote new ways of thinking about solving social problems, including: a data jam sponsored in partnership with the White House initiative My Brother’s Keeper, a semester-long seminar led by our first Innovator in Residence Paul Schmitz on Leadership for Social Change, a series of design thinking workshops facilitated by expert Nadia Roumani of Stanford’s d.school, and a spring fellowship course that challenged cross-disciplinary teams of students to work with a real-world client to identify strategies for scaling a children’s feeding program in Manila. Throughout these activities, we gave special attention to a core value of the Center and one of the most powerful issues in America today – diversity and inclusion.

Nationally and globally we have been focused on policy innovation, specifically how to move policy to funding and measuring outcomes – not process.  We have done this though research, Op-Eds, and spotlights on outcomes-focused approaches to public spending, the role of public-private partnerships, mechanisms to support local innovation and other tools to help government generate social change. We also looked at how to leverage private capital to improve social outcomes in the developing world through impact investing. And, we continue to work with policy makers on creating incentives in the U.S. to scale impact investing.

Solving society’s most pressing problems at scale requires an array of voices, views, and perspectives at the table to identify new solutions to old problems. Diversity and inclusion have not always been a conversation in social innovation.  However, we believe that if we want to achieve meaningful social impact at scale, then we must challenge ourselves to go beyond simply recognizing the need for diversity to adopting a practice and culture that leverages our differences to unearth truly innovative ideas. Diversity must also extend beyond race, ethnicity, and nationality to include income, gender, political and social views, age, life experience, and much more. Representation means including voices that don’t agree, so that we can learn from and better understand new perspectives to find shared goals. It is within this space – this creative tension – where we have the best chance to find the ideas, solutions, and pathways that can have the most transformative impact.

One of our missions at the Beeck Center is to convene diverse voices through curated, powerful conversations that spur innovative thought and ideas. While we believe that both capital and technology are critical levers for driving change, values also matter greatly and the the role of diversity and inclusion cannot be understated. Today’s issues are global issues, requiring broad collective action, diverse stakeholders, and collaboration on a grander scale than ever imagined. We cannot afford to leave key voices out of the dialogue of change.

Over the past year, we’ve led a broad spectrum of work highlighting the importance of this approach in scaling social change. In our work with students, we’ve highlighted the power of cross-sector approaches to address real world issues, most notably through our Future Fellows class. Led by Michael Chodos and Dr. Hollie Russon Gilman, 22 Future Fellows from across the different schools at Georgetown learned that solving social problems at scale requires diverse approaches and they formed friendships with students they would not normally meet on campus. Our Student Impact Board hosted a series of Beeck Unplugged talks featuring a diverse set of social impact leaders, including Mary Iskenderian, CEO of Women’s World Banking; Social Entrepreneur Felipe Vergara, CEO of Lumni; Bruce McNamer, former CEO of the JP Morgan Foundation; Jason Green, Co-founder of SkillSmart and Director of the Quince Orchard Project; and Sean Hinton, CEO of Terbish Partners.

In March, we co-hosted a dynamic conference highlighting the importance of diversity and inclusion in driving impact. #SheDisrupts: Women Leading Disruptive Innovations featured an extremely diverse and inspiring group of leaders and change-makers, including such luminaries as Pat Christen, Managing Director of The Omidyar Group; Jean Case, CEO of the Case Foundation; Carolyn Berkowitz from Capital One; and David Thomas, Dean of the McDonough Business School. With our partners, the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, under the leadership of Ambassador Melanne Verveer, and the S&R Foundation’s Halcyon Incubator, led by Dr. Sachiko Kuno, we brought together over 150 incredible women innovators to share their personal successes and challenges and offer insights on how to support and scale women leaders and entrepreneurs across the social innovation space.

Our thought leadership continues to focus on how applying a diverse, cross-sector view to leveraging capital can be better channeled to address systemic social and environmental challenges. We are continuing our Policy Innovation work through the lens of Pay for Success and Pay for Performance, working directly with congressional staff, the executive branch, practitioners in the field, and global stakeholders to capture, analyze and synthesize best practices. Most importantly, we have sought out the voices that are usually left out of the policymaking process in Washington, but are essential to driving and implementing real change.

In addition to our work in the policy innovation space, we are also collaborating with a diverse set of philanthropic organizations, corporations, and private investors on how investment and institutional capital can be better leveraged for social good. Globally, this is even more timely given the upcoming International Financing for Development Conference. The G-7 international development report for impact investing offers options on how private capital can better help address some of our global challenges. Through this collective body of research, we continue to look for the most effective cross-sector approaches to achieving outcomes – locally and globally.

And we are even more excited about this coming summer. Our GU Impacts 2015 program will send 17 student leaders on an unconventional work abroad program that places teams of students directly with nonprofits and businesses in India, China, Philippines, Nicaragua, and Peru working to drive impact and innovation on the ground. After finishing orientation this week, these students will start their international service program, gaining hands-on experience working in rural and urban communities across the globe.

As we wrap up the 2014-15 school year, we hope our students, alumni, partners, and friends will take time this summer to consider how to bring more diversity to their personal, academic, or professional pursuits. We encourage you to push beyond comfort zones and spend time working and engaging with new and unexpected people, groups, and organizations Transformative change and personal growth requires working through our differences so we can find solutions together.

We sincerely thank every volunteer, intern, faculty and staff member that has embraced the Beeck Center this year. We are grateful for your support and continued guidance, and look forward to more partnerships in the next school year.

Here’s to an excellent and illuminating summer.

All best,

Sonal Shah
Executive Director
The Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation

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