Illinois Social Innovation

Build the skillset and mindset to create positive social impact

Illinois Social Innovation (ISI) is a campus-wide initiative that promotes social purpose and environmental impact work at Illinois. In collaboration with campus and community partners, the initiative offers a variety of community-engaged learning opportunities and educational programs that foster skill development in making effective change.

ISI provides innovative coursework and experiential learning to enable an inclusive network of changemakers to co-create innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing social and environmental problems. ISI seeks to support future leaders of social enterprises, enlist the wider student body in social innovation activities, engage communities for innovative and actionable insights, and convene knowledge for social innovation. 

Supporting and training future leaders of social enterprise

The bulk of ISI’s offerings have focused on enhancing co-curricular opportunities for social ventures and entrepreneurship under the leadership of Valeri Werpetinski and the Origin Ventures Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership. Co-curricular and experiential programs such as 3 Day Startup, Map the System, and Illinois Impact Incubator aim to train future leaders of social enterprises. Recent efforts have focused on expanding opportunities for specialized and inclusive entrepreneurship to enhance diverse, equitable, and inclusive opportunities for social innovations. 

Enlist the wider student body in social innovation activities

We've learned that students are interested in social innovation and impact beyond ventures. ISI strategically aims to reach more students by filling curricular gaps in areas such as nonprofit or social impact management, ESG investment (environmental, social, and corporate governance), enhancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion), or mission-driven careers. In this way, ISI aims to provide a clear entry point for students, staff, and faculty who have innovative ideas for social impact.

Engage communities for innovative and actionable insights. 

Understanding the user experience helps to ensure that social innovations are useful to the people they are designed to benefit. We provide structure and space for practitioners and local experts to exchange ideas for real world application and insights. Our public engagement efforts focus on the value of integrating business and market perspectives to solve social problems – with a focus on product or service viability. This aim is advanced through our social innovation workshops administered in partnership with the Siebel Center for Design, experiential learning with nonprofits and social purpose organizations coordinated in partnership with UIUC Community Learning Lab and the Magelli Office and engaged partnership with community efforts such as the Community Solutions Incubator. 

Convene and mobilize knowledge for social innovation. 

Much of the value provided by ISI is realized by binding together discrete efforts through a coordinated infrastructure. We aim for collective impact by strengthening internal partnerships with other colleges and units, as well as building external partnerships with other universities and networks. In partnership with Gies advancement, we are growing an alumni board connect initiative to engage alumni as mentors in areas such as impact investing, social enterprise, and nonprofit management. We are also leading convenings for the Illinois Innovation Network (IIN) in pursuit of collective social innovation education and impact at IIN hubs.