Fordham Social Innovation Collaboratory (FSIC)
The FSIC combines disciplinary silos and inspires change-making through unique, experiential learning pathways—motivating students to create innovative, scalable solutions to address society’s most pressing issues.
Call to Action
The Gabelli School of Business has always aspired to excellence in educating students toward primarily for-profit careers. With outstanding strengths in finance, accounting, and marketing, the Gabelli School is known to the “Big 4” accounting and Wall Street investment firms for its well-rounded graduates with liberal arts and critical reasoning skills. The ongoing challenge is to tie the education and commensurate career opportunities to Jesuit tenets, as well as to sustainability and social innovation for society benefit.
The Fordham Social Innovation Collaboratory (FSIC) was born of this challenge. Traditional values of social justice already permeate the university’s curriculum, clubs, and campus culture. This initiative aims to engage business students familiar with these themes in opportunities to develop active “changemaker” skills and positive business practices.
The FSIC has helped realize this goal by placing business students together with liberal arts and graduate students in a variety of models where experiential learning leads to a “solutions-creation” mindset. Liberal arts students engaged in social justice learning expand their capacity through business venture practices learned from Gabelli students. Likewise, Gabelli students have an active opportunity to apply their business practices to social and environmental causes. Nowhere else at the university does this cross-collaboration exist in such a focused manner as it does within the FSIC.
Resourced by the Gabelli School of Business and the Office of the Provost, the FSIC fosters changemaking skill sets focused on action orientation, innovation and creativity, empathy, emotional and social intelligence, perseverance, and learning through failure.
In just two years, FSIC has built six practicums focusing on solving societal issues through innovation. The hallmarks of these initiatives are their interdisciplinarity, incorporation of alumni and industry experts as mentors, and use of student leaders to create a self-directed learning experience.
Successful grant awards, new curricular initiatives, and cross-school partnerships include the Gabelli School social innovation dual and secondary concentrations, the BMW electric vehicle adoption practicum, the UN cookstove practicum, a food and enterprise practicum, and the award of the Verizon Innovative Learning grant.
The interdisciplinary nature of the initiative allows Fordham’s traditionally separate schools to collaborate with one another. To ensure active collaboration, a management board consisting of 10 faculty members from the Gabelli School of Business, Fordham College at Rose Hill, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and Graduate School of Social Service meets weekly. The management board reports to a steering committee of deans chaired by the associate vice president in the Office of the Provost.
The board receives constant support from a director of sustainability initiatives, who is in turn supported by an ever-growing number of student leaders. The director oversees two physical lab spaces as “hubs” where students and faculty can gather and spark ideas.
On the student level, the Gabelli School students involved with the FSIC report that the program helps integrate personal passions with practical business skills and build entrepreneurial/intrapreneurial thinking. Not only has the program attracted students to study at the Gabelli School who may have gone to other schools, but, for some, it has turned Fordham into their first choice.
On the school level, the FSIC’s co-curricular activities have already sparked curricular change. A new course for spring 2017 teaches students about contributing to social good through impact investing. An integrated project cohort for sophomores adds the lens of social innovation onto all five of the academic fields under study. According to their program evaluations, students in the social innovation cohort exhibited a much higher degree of engagement in the classroom than their counterparts in the non-social innovation cohort. Continued study of these pilot programs will be used to inform future strategies.
On the national level, through a grant from the Verizon Foundation, the FSIC management board faculty developed a formal learning metric to evaluate a program for youth from underserved neighborhoods. Implemented by faculty from the Gabelli School and other Fordham schools, the program consisted of 26 youth living on campus for one month to study technology, entrepreneurship, and communications. The metric showed the new program to be so unique and impactful that the Verizon Foundation is requesting not only a second year of the residential program but also for Fordham’s development expertise to be applied toward other nationwide programs the foundation funds.