On May 1st, BC Social Work hosted its first ever Social Innovation Symposium, engaging well-respected community leaders with students, alumni, and other social work professionals. Organized and convened by current MSW students in partnership with faculty leadership at the Center for Social Innovation, the Symposium provided a forum for attendees to consider how they can innovate for change, both in their current work, and with an eye to the future. This year’s theme centered around economic justice; speakers and workshops examined innovative practices in using assets, the built environment, and social capital to develop and improve access to economic resources in marginalized communities.
Symposium speakers included:
- On access to assets: Jesus Gerena, Director at the Family Independence Initiative, Boston.
- On the built environment: Steve Poftak, Executive Director of the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston at Harvard University.
- On social capital: Talia Rivera, Member Relations Director at the Council on Foundations.
“It was so important to us at the Center to begin making concrete links between the practice of innovation within organizations and the pressing social problems about which social work cares so much,” said Professor Tiziana Dearing, CSI’s co-director. “At the end of the day, we innovate not for innovation’s sake, but to achieve justice, or prosperity, or opportunity for our communities. Talia, Jesus, and Steve did a terrific job helping us all think critically about how to innovate for those outcomes. We look forward to learning the same on issues like social equity, or environmental justice, or childhood wellbeing in future years.”
Workshops led by Rivera and Gerena provided Symposium attendees with an opportunity to hear about real life examples of innovation, first hand. Rivera spoke about her work building the Greenwood Initiative, an organization that is teaching gang members to understand that they are in fact also members of a greater community, and that they have a real opportunity to become agents for positive change. Gerena focused his remarks on the Family Independence Initiative, and how he is hard at work to support groups of low-income families as they create their own strong communities and economic independence.
Poftak, who is noted for his extensive research on transportation policy, government efficiency, municipal finance, and job creation, and who was recently appointed by Governor Charlie Baker to the board of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, “showed us how policy can have a real impact on our day to day as social workers,” explained 2nd-year MSW student Ashlan Allison, one of the Symposium’s organizers.
Fernande Raine, Director, Northeast at Ashoka, who moderated a panel conversation at the close of the event, added that Poftak outlined a “to do list for Boston social innovators” for the next 100 years – it was a smart tactic; this room undoubtedly featured many of the next generation of the city’s advocates for change.
“We were very pleased with the caliber of the speakers, and the quality of the sessions,” said Allison. “It was exciting to be able to be a part of the planning process – this was my biggest personal outcome. Graduate students don’t always get real life opportunities; I believe that being a part of planning this Symposium sets the stage for the future and playing a key role in professional events such as this as I move forward in my career.”
At the conclusion of her remarks, Raine called for all in attendance, students and professionals alike, to, like Allison, profit from being a part of this Symposium, and parlay what they had learned at BC into effecting change beyond the campus walls.
“As all of you go out an innovate…,” she urged, “first of all, be aware of the unintended consequences. Second of all, be inclusive of the community you work with, engage the community in your process, and respect the user in designing solutions… and finally, recognize a city as an essential platform and community to do your work.”
View a photo gallery of the event on Facebook, and check out video snippets from each of the three symposium speakers below.