Fordham University has been named a “changemaker campus” by Ashoka, a global organization that honors universities for innovative efforts to foster social good and strengthen society.
Under the designation “Ashoka U,” Fordham joins 25 other universities and colleges around the nation that are helping change the world through social innovation. They include fellow Jesuit schools Boston College and Marquette University, and other top schools such as Princeton, Duke, Cornell, and Brown universities.
Ashoka is a nonprofit worldwide network that supports entrepreneurial efforts to solve social problems. Marina Kim, co-founder and executive director of the organization’s Ashoka U initiative, said Fordham fits the profile of a changemaker campus for several reasons. The University’s engagement with the community in the Bronx is one. Its focus on research in areas such as health care, technology, environmental protection, social justice, and religious dialogue is another.
The University’s Jesuit identity and commitment to teaching students to be “men and women for others” is likewise a factor, as is service learning, which is “deeply embedded into the campus culture,” Kim said.
“That’s a hugely important foundation on which to build new social entrepreneurship,” she said.
“There are a lot of building blocks already in place, and already strong, that [are]aligned with social innovation as a broader campus-wide strategy.”
Ashoka U’s main focus is strengthening networks of like-minded individuals, both within a university and within the changemaker campus network. Fordham is advancing this effort through its newly formed Fordham Social Innovation Collaboratory (FSIC), said Ron Jacobson, Ph.D., associate vice president in the Office of the Provost.
The three main themes that FSIC will address are global environmental sustainability, human well-being, and social justice and poverty.
“The whole idea of social innovation is something that Fordham as a Jesuit institution has been a part of for almost 175 years, and I think this is just another way of reaffirming the mission of the University,” he said.
“It’s going to break down some of the artificial walls that exist, in terms of curriculum within schools, and in terms of co-curricular activities, where people at one campus know about an event but people at the other campus may not.”
Michael Pirson, Ph.D., associate professor of management systems in the Schools of Business, first proposed the partnership last year. He quickly found others interested in the collaboration, including Jacobson and John Davenport, Ph.D., associate professor of philosophy. Pirson hopes it will help Fordham redefine itself based on its strengths.
“There’s so much complexity, so many big problems and big issues that we’re all faced with,” he said. “In some ways, education is lagging behind in terms of adapting to what folks need to know to make sense of the complex and always-changing environment.”
In addition to integrating curriculums so that they’re more geared toward social innovation, the partnership is leading to various initiatives that create opportunity for students. These include a social innovation workshop course—hosted by the Gabelli School of Business but open to students throughout the University—and a new student organization, the Fordham Intercampus Social Innovation Team.
Jordan Catalana, a Gabelli senior who’s majoring in business administration and minoring in sustainable business, is one of the first students to get involved. She’s a member of the Fordham chapter of the Compass fellowship program, which teaches social entrepreneurship to undergraduates.
Given Fordham’s Jesuit identity, she said, “I’ve been hoping that social innovation at Fordham would be brought to light [and]marketed to more students” as well as to faculty and administrators, she said.
The first Ashoka U-related event took place Sept. 3, when David Bornstein, author of How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas (Oxford University Press, 2007), addressed the incoming class of the Gabelli School.
— Patrick Verel