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A History of Social Innovation at Marquette

Dedicated to solving social problems, Social Innovation is a burgeoning field in American higher education. More than 100 schools offer undergraduate and/or graduate learning experiences, double the number a decade ago. Growth trends project another doubling over the next five years.

The schools leading Social Innovation education are part of the Changemaker Campus consortium founded by Ashoka: Innovators for the Public. Marquette was selected in 2010 among the first 10 Changemaker Campus partner-schools, along with Duke University and Arizona State University.   As of February, 2013 the consortium represents 22 schools (on pace to meet Ashoka’s goal of 30 by 2015), including Boston College, Brown University, Brigham Young University, Cornell University, George Mason University, Johns Hopkins University, Middlebury College, New York University, Tulane University, the University of Maryland and others.

While Marquette University is recognized for projects that contribute to Social Innovation education in general – such as FixesU, the Gates Foundation-funded partnership between Marquette and the New York Times, or the Midwest Social Innovation Design Challenge, the Brady Corporation-Marquette regional partnership that mirrors the Dell Corporation-University of Texas at Austin national platform, or campus residencies that showcase internationally recognized social entrepreneurs and thought leaders – the next steps will focus on curricular and co-curricular aspects, such as a best-in-class minor that incorporates interdisciplinary and applied scholarship, global experiences, etc. In the words of the 2011 faculty workgroup that first considered these aspects, it’s time for Marquette to “go big.”          

Interest in Social Innovation at Marquette

Based on faculty and student surveys, scholarship and learning at Marquette are parallel to the goals of Social Innovation education.

  • Among students at Marquette (2009-2012), 97 percent of survey respondents (N = 387) indicate that they are interested (20 percent) or highly interested (77 percent) in more social innovation models, activities and learning opportunities as part of their Marquette experience.  Within one year of forming, the Social Innovation student organization boasts more than 200 members for its event distribution list, representing students from across the disciplines (the majority are not Business majors). 
  • Among faculty, 93 percent of survey respondents (N = 82) indicate that they believe there is alignment (22 percent) or high alignment (71 percent) between the field of Social Innovation and Marquette’s mission and identity.

Presently, more than 60 faculty are regular attendees at Social Innovation research and practitioner meetings, reflecting a growth trend since the introduction of Social Innovation at Marquette in 2009.  


Highlights: 2009-Present

Fall, 2009

Marquette’s first social entrepreneur in residence, Jane Leu, founder, Upwardly Global, visited campus for a two-week residency that included multiple campus and community forums.   The Upwardly Global model that addresses market failure among recent, well-educated, job-seeking immigrants – specifically, the inability to penetrate the job market due to lack of network and unfounded fears of HR directors – proved especially compelling as an example of good social innovation. (Residencies at Marquette have now become annual fall highlights.) Upwardly Global has since placed more than 3,000 immigrants into commensurate, high-paying jobs, resulting in a projected 40:1 return on every dollar invested.

Spring, 2010

A formal Social Innovation Initiative (SII) was announced, operating on the premise that supply will meet demand among the faculty and students seeking involvement.  The Helen Bader Foundation and the Lynde & Harry Bradley Foundation provided joint support for the initial program offerings.  Since then, more than $500,000 in gifts and grants have followed in support of Social Innovation Initiative projects from varying sources, including: the American Association of Colleges and Universities, Helen Bader Foundation, Lynde & Harry Bradley Foundation, Brady Corporation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Greater Milwaukee Committee, J.J. Keller Foundation, ManpowerGroup, U.S. Venture Fund and Zilber Family Foundation. 

Summer, 2010

Marquette was selected among the first 10 university members nationally as a Changemaker Campus (with Duke University and Arizona State University), a consortium founded by Ashoka: Innovators for the Public that has since grown to 22 schools, including Boston College, Brown University, Brigham Young University, Cornell University, George Mason University, Johns Hopkins University, Middlebury College, New York University, Tulane University, the University of Maryland and others. 

Additionally, the Executive Social Innovation Leadership Experience was launched in partnership with the J.J. Keller Foundation and the U. S. Venture Fund, serving nearly 30 executives at Fox Valley non-profit organizations.  The program was expanded in 2012 at the request of the funding partners.  The NPOs selected for participation represent more than 40,000 lives directly impacted, $40 million in annual operating budgets, and 4,000 employees and volunteers. 

Fall, 2010

The first formal Social Innovation coursework (undergraduate) was launched at Marquette and the second social entrepreneur in residence, Raj Vinnakota, visited campus for a one-week residency.  Raj’s model of social innovation in the space of urban education – the SEED Schools – appeared twice on 60 Minutes, and his community forum at the law school was standing room only. 

Spring, 2011

The second formal Social Innovation coursework (graduate) was launched and a Social Innovation Design contest hosted by ManpowerGroup attracted regional schools, including MBA students from the University of Chicago and Northwestern University, vying for the best hybrid business model to solve a social problem using financial sustainability, replication, scale and clear metrics as the criteria.  A Marquette undergraduate team earned top prize.

Summer, 2011

Marquette founded the Midwest Consortium for Social Innovation, which now attracts more than 30 area schools as well as philanthropists, civic leaders and practitioners. Marquette is now regarded as a resource hub for regional Social Innovation education and activities.  On campus, the student organization dedicated to Social Innovation, Changemakers, topped 200 new members after launching earlier in the year, and more than 60 faculty participate in their own organization, as well – approximately one-half serving as Faculty Champions for Social Innovation.

Also, Bill Drayton, founder, Ashoka: Innovators for the Public, joined author David McCullough in receiving the honorary doctorate from Marquette at its Commencement Ceremony. A campus luncheon the day before Commencement attracted more than 100 faculty eager to hear Drayton’s thoughts on the growth of Social Innovation education. 

Fall, 2011

The third social entrepreneur in residence, Greg Van Kirk of Community Enterprise Solutions, visited campus to describe how his micro-consignment work in Central America is lifting residents out of poverty and building markets where none existed.  A few months after his residency, Greg received the Schwab Foundation Award for the most successful social entrepreneurship model in all of Central America.

Winter, 2012

Based on a successful proposal in 2011, the Lynde & Harry Bradley Foundation engaged Dr. Bill Henk, Dean, College of Education, and Dr. Jeff Snell, as co-principal investigators to conduct the first university-based feasibility study of the Cristo Rey Network’s social innovation model for urban education – specifically, if a CRN school in Milwaukee is feasible. Joined formally by Andrew Stith, the study director hired in the summer of 2012, and led by study co-chairs and Marquette Trustees, Jim Flaherty, SJ, and Anne Zizzo, findings are expected in the summer of 2013; CRN now regards the Marquette model as the template for future schools.  The CRN social-entrepreneurship model has been featured on several platforms, including 60 Minutes.

Spring, 2012

Brady Corporation accepted Marquette’s proposal to develop the first regional platform for Social Innovation Design contests, paralleling the national platform founded by Dell Corporation and the University of Texas – Austin. Significantly, the first regional SI design contest – in partnership with the Greater Milwaukee Committee and key corporate partners – will be featured during Milwaukee’s Innovation Week, June 6, 2013 (please see Summer, 2013 below).  

Summer, 2012

For the second year, the graduate–level course on Social Innovation was offered.  Course evaluations are available; students provided an overall rating of 5.6 on a 6.0 scale.   

Also, the second (and expanded) cohort for the year-long Social Innovation Leadership Experience was launched in partnership with J. J. Keller Foundation and U.S. Venture Fund. 

Fall, 2012

The fourth social entrepreneur in residence, David Bornstein, best-selling author and columnist, visited campus to share his work on “solutions journalism” and his New York Times column Fixes, which details best-practice social innovation models. Using Bornstein’s columns as content, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funded a Marquette-New York Times partnership, FixesU, to embed Social Innovation and problem solving in the curriculum around the world.  The partnership was selected in a field of 1,000 proposals from 85 countries. The PBS NewsHour has even proposed collaborating on FixesU, adding expert video content.

Additionally, the Freshman Honors Course, How the Change the World, was offered again.  Course evaluations are available; it remains among the highest-rated honors courses for first-year students.

Winter, 2013

More than 200 guests and leaders from across Milwaukee’s sectors gathered for a day-conference at ManpowerGroup’s world HQ – Building our Social Innovation Ecosystem– making the event Milwaukee’s largest forum to date on Social Innovation.  Participants were welcomed by Jonas Prising, President, ManpowerGroup, and learned about SI’s intersection with Milwaukee’s commerce, philanthropy and higher education, as framed by nationally recognized thought-leaders from Stanford University, Duke University Tulane University and George Mason University.  The gathering was made possible by the collaborative efforts of the Social Innovation Initiative, the Helen Bader Foundation, the Greater Milwaukee Committee, ManpowerGroup, and the Zilber Family Foundation.  Plans are already underway for next steps with some of the same partners, focusing on each of the three areas of intersection.

Spring, 2013

The student organization, Changemakers, in collaboration with the State of Wisconsin, provided service to Walnut Way Conservation Corp, using Social Innovation Design (creating commercial kitchen space for resident use and business development) as a means of creating shared value for the stakeholders. 

In May, the graduate course on Social Innovation was offered for the third time. 

Finally, a more comprehensive plan for building out Social Innovation across Marquette – the Social Innovation Project – was developed, including a minor (using resources derived from the National Advisory Board for the Algernon Sullivan Foundation) as well as other curricular, co-curricular, service and community engagement aspects.  

Summer, 2013

Collaborating with the Greater Milwaukee Committee, the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, Dell Corporation, Johnson Controls and Brady Corporation, Marquette’s Social Innovation Initiative convened the first Midwest Social Innovation Start-Up Challenge on June 6th as part of Milwaukee Innovation Week. The Brady Midwest Regional Championship event awarded three finalists $25,000 on Aug. 15th.

Additionally, the SII was featured at Marquette’s alumni gathering, CIRCLES, bringing together top business leaders in the Fox Valley, Robert Keller (J.J. Keller & Associates) and John Schmidt (U.S. Venture), to discuss why Social Innovation resonates with their private philanthropy and business goals.  The gathering took place at Riverview Gardens, the Valley’s first social enterprise, which grew out of the first cohort of the Social Innovation Leadership Experience.

Fall, 2013

At a luncheon was presented by the Marquette University Social Innovation Initiative, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and Catholic Relief Services, Marquette's former president, Rev. Scott R. Pilarz, S.J., welcomed, Dr. Carolyn Woo, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services and she described the impact of social entrepreneurship on humanitarian work - social entrepreneurship is changing the way Catholic Reflief Services impacts the lives of 100 million people in over 100 countries.

Filmmaker for Change, Holly Mosher visited for a showing of her movie Bonsai People. Holly is an award winning filmmaker who brings socially conscious films to the public. Bonsai People: the Story of Muhammad Yunus, follows the work of the Nobel Peace Prize winning Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank.

The fifth social entrepreneur in residence, Tina Rosenberg, visited on behalf of the Marquette Law School and the Social Innovation Intitative, further building out

At the urging of the participating executives, an “encore,” condensed presentation of the Social Innovation Leadership Experience (SILE) was presented by Jeff Snell, Ph.D., of Marquette University and Steve Kuper of Innovative Learning Strategies. Participants explored how social innovation and leadership development intersect to equip nonprofits to move beyond managing their organizations to leading positive social change.

The third annual Social Innovation Design Contest was held for Marquette students.

Winter, 2013

A "slam dunk" for the Social Innovation Initiative: during Big East men's basketball season, Marquette will recognize our community Champions for Change at home games. Watch the Jumbo-tron for social innovation stories and courtside recognition for our valued Champions for Change.

SII Campus Calendar (current events)

Future Endeavors (2014 and beyond)

A project in Rivas, Nicaragua is a possible multi-university project and is undergoing an extensive due diligence process. In sum, the opportunity is for Marquette to lead a university consortium to help develop a township of 20,000 residents using a sustainable, community-based approach across four main sectors: commerce, health, education and the environment. (The exact village, Tola, was visited in January, 2013.)  If the due diligence process indicates there’s clear alignment with the University’s strategic plan, the project in Tola would unite MU’s current deployment of student brigades across the colleges (a first), engage in meaningful long-term development and scholarship (sustained, non-relief work built from ground up), and fashion a compelling international story that serves to illustrate Marquette’s motto, Be the Difference (in this case, shaping a country by helping to build a replicable model of sustainable, community-based solutions for parts of the developing world).


Source: AshokaU, Marina Kim, Director, 2012.  AshokaU estimates that, in terms of formal academic units for Social Innovation/Social Entrepreneurship across American higher education, there are more than 50 formal centers or institutes, led by 500 dedicated faculty, serving more than 5,000 students – figures also expected to double in the next five years.

Please see for a complete list as well as member profiles.

The workgroup consisted of seven faculty members representing six colleges.  The initial plan was to meet four times during the summer of 2011 to explore a minor, but after the second meeting the group consensus was that Social Innovation at Marquette merited more than a minor because it captured key aspects of the Jesuit mission and identity, interdisciplinary learning, the core curriculum, etc. A summary memo to the Office of the Provost was approved by the work group, requesting a more comprehensive build-out of Social Innovation, using the phrase “let’s go big.”  





“Ultimately, we must understand the
need to be agents of change.”       

Pedro Arrupe, S.J.


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Marquette as Changemaker Campus