Social Innovation and Civic Engagement: Toward a Shared Future?

Look at the traffic in your email inbox over the last week. If your inbox looks like ours, take note of the number of emails you have received, from both internal and external colleagues, announcing a new undergraduate competition for the best innovative solution to a social problem, a new course on how to construct a business plan to start a social impact organization, or a competition for funding to start a new campus organization. To us, the volume of these emails is stunning, and it speaks to a broader trend in the higher education ecosystem.

Like many readers of Diversity & Democracy, we deeply believe in higher education’s civic mission and its critical goal of developing engaged citizens. The pursuit of this goal has evolved throughout the history of higher education, with two approaches now ascendant on many of our campuses—ensconced on some and nascent on others. These approaches can be categorized as social innovation and civic engagement.

In this article, we describe the contours and possible intersections of these approaches. But we begin with caveats and a bit of context. We both lead civic engagement efforts on our campuses, where we have worked with colleagues in social innovation and entrepreneurship to jointly create programs and sponsor events. On both of our campuses, we have brought together scholars and practitioners using these two approaches in order to clarify values and assumptions. Duke has included social innovation programs under its broadly conceived civic engagement program, DukeEngage. These partnerships are of great service to our students, faculty, and community partners.

However, viewing the broader landscape of higher education, we are concerned about and have noted the rapid advance of social innovation approaches that might benefit more productively from the civic engagement movement’s hard-earned knowledge about the most effective ways of achieving social change….Click here to continue reading the full article.