Impact At Scale

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

Sonal's Corner Social Impact Beeck Center

Sonal’s Corner: A Letter from our Executive Director

“The world will not evolve past its current state of crisis by using the same thinking that created the situation.” ~ Albert Einstein

We are off to an exciting start to the new academic year here at the Beeck Center. Over the past month, we have hosted two incredible open houses where we welcomed hundreds of amazing new and returning students, faculty, and staff. We are extremely motivated and inspired by the energy around the work of the Center. We are equally thrilled by the year ahead, including the following educational experiences that we hope you will take advantage of this fall:

  • Social Movements in the 21st Century (Oct. 20, Nov. 3 and Dec. 1): Georgetown students and alumni are invited to participate in this interactive, four-part seminar led by Paul Schmitz, author and former national CEO of Public Allies, about social movements and civic engagement in the 21st Century. The first class took place on September 29th, and we encourage Georgetown students and alumni to register here for the other seminars.
  • Lean Startup Workshop with the MSFS (Oct. 17): Students, alumni, and faculty will learn about the Lean Startup Method and how to apply this methodology to address business and social challenges through this experiential, hands-on workshop.
  • Technology in Our Lives (Nov. 5 – 6): In November we are hosting a one-and-a-half day Socratic seminar on the role of technology in our lives and future trends in civil society. Led by Visiting Scholar Dr. Hollie Russon-Gilman and myself, this seminar will prepare the next generation of leaders to think critically about technology’s role in public policy and civil society. The seminar is open to current Georgetown undergraduates (Juniors & Seniors), graduate students, and alumni. Space is extremely limited so we encourage applicants to register soon.
  • City of Trees Film Screening (Nov. 16): Join us for an advance screening of the documentary City of Trees, which tells the intimate story of one community’s fight for equal access to good jobs and safe parks in our nation’s capital. Q&A to follow with the film’s director, staff, and campus partners.

We also kicked off the new school year with a sustainability visioning session led by Beeck Center Fellow Lisa Gans and Director of Engagement Liz Anderson, and hosted in partnership with the campus Sustainability Office and Georgetown University’s Student Association (GUSA). During this exciting, interactive design session, over two dozenstudents worked together to develop concrete goals and design environmental solutions for the campus. The session has already led to active engagement by students, while spurring their willingness to lead on sustainability issues across the Georgetown campus.

We had a very busy summer with the GU Impacts program, which placed 16 students in 10-week internships with for-profit and non-profit social good organizations in six different countries. Students were sent to India, China, Philippines, Nicaragua, and Peru, where they gained professional experience working with local partners to drive change and innovation on the ground. I encourage you to read the reflections from some of our students featured in this Newsletter. Please stay tuned for additional posts from our GU Impact students, upcoming information sessions, and other opportunities to connect with the program this year.

Our research this summer focused on leveraging innovation and technology to help government and the private sector apply creative approaches to social challenges. Our Government Innovation team has been working with former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Jim Shelton to produce a paper on how smarter government can produce social impact by shifting to an outcomes mindset and paying for results. New data, better analysis, and smarter technology are providing groundbreaking opportunities for policymakers to innovate government and deliver better results for citizens. Our paper will be released on October 28th at the White House as part of a larger conversation the Beeck Center is driving on creating a 21st Century government.

Simultaneously, our Impact Investing team has been hard at work with Amit Sharma, professor at Georgetown and former U.S. Department of Treasury official, to develop a framework that combines emerging corporate risk management practices with key innovations of social enterprise. By integrating lessons from across the corporate sector, the framework will identify successful methods to identify and pursue profitable and sustainable business opportunities that directly address our greatest social, environmental, and governance challenges.

As we look ahead to the next few years, we will continue to build on our expertise in government innovation and policy solutions, impact investing, and the role of data and civic technology for social change. As a neutral and inclusive convener, the Beeck Center seeks to enhance the ability of leaders in government, business, philanthropy, and civil society to transform the social sector to generate exponential impact. We know that to realize this level of transformation, we will need to work across silos. We want to push this forward-thinking dialogue by bringing new voices to the table and asking challenging questions about what “change” means in a dynamic, rapidly changing world and what the implications are for existing systems. We will kick off this conversation at our event later this month at the White House on designing a 21st century government.

This fall, in partnership with the McCourt School of Public Policy and the newly formed Massive Data Institute, we will host a series of multi-sector conversations on “Big Data for Social Good.” Bringing together policy experts from the White House, government decision makers, technologists, data privacy leaders, and social sector leaders, we will curate in-depth discussions on the critical role of data for social impact and public policy. We will explore a range of data-related themes such as how the collection, protection, understanding, and application of data goes beyond analytics — and why that is essential to achieving social impact; how data shapes and informs our understanding of the world around us, and how we can leverage that new knowledge to create meaningful change; and how data drives policy decisions. Last year, we wrote on the responsible principles for the ethical use of big data — see our article in the Journal of Sustainable Finance and Banking. As we consider the opportunities and challenges of Big Data, we recognize the need to bring more diverse perspectives to the discussion and to pursue the difficult conversations around the role of and implications for ethics, judgment, and privacy in this new environment.

As you can see, we have a full agenda and we’re only just getting started. We hope you will join us and actively contribute on any or all of these topics. We look forward to engaging with you!


Sonal Shah

Executive Director

The Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation

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