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Social Innovation Day Takes on Added Significance Amid Global Pandemic

Featured Events Sustainable Business | May 06, 2020 |

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.

By Marianne Fulgenzi

When more than 300 Gabelli School students and other attendees – including a select group of faculty, administration, alumni and student leaders from across the globe – gathered online for Social Innovation Day on April 21st, what became apparent was the growing importance of social innovation at a time when a global pandemic has magnified the issues that continue to exist in business and society.

Hosted by the Gabelli School of Business with the International Humanistic Management Society, this year’s virtual conference brought together a roster of business and academic leaders in four areas of social innovation: research, practice, pedagogy and policy/outreach.

Michael Pirson, PhD., associate professor and area chair of the leading people and organizations area at the Gabelli School, noted, “The COVID-19 pandemic is shining a spotlight on tragedies existing in certain parts of the population, such as access to healthcare and other issues connected with the lockdown such as job loss.

Pirson explained that there are all kinds of amplification effects as a result of the current crisis and cautioned people to be much more urgent, intentional and mindful about creating solutions to these problems.

From Research to Practice

One panel highlighted how research is a foundational way social innovation can start to attack social injustice. Hosted by Fordham Marketing Chair Sertan Kabadayi and featuring panelists Christopher Marquis, of Cornell University, Anita McGahan, of the Rotman School of Management, and Michael Barnett, of Rutgers University, this session focused on issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing global crisis. Special emphasis was given to the ways the COVID-19 pandemic magnifies the importance of understanding business’ impact on areas such society and the environment, and how it can be part of the solution. 

Fairtrasa, a global social enterprise, bringing organic and fairtrade fruit to Europe and the U.S. and empowering growers to lift themselves out of poverty.

Panelists also examined questions such as the narratives being used in current business research and the way we teach and talk about business, and the need to shift away from a “shareholder” focus to a “stakeholder” focus.

Patrick Struebi, CEO of Fairtrasa/Bloom, hosted a panel about putting innovation into practice, featuring Cara Smyth and Frank Zambrelli, of the Future Fashion Coalition, former Greystone CEO Mike Brady, and Erick Goralski, of Social Impact Investing. 

The group emphasized the importance of sustainability and human dignity in business’ success, discussing the need for academia to provide the tools necessary for future business leaders to create efficient and profitable businesses through healthier, cost-effective and efficient business practices that contribute to the common good. The panel also underscored the need for leaders to understand the impact of social responsibility in improving people’s lives.

Transforming Pedagogy to Policy

Students must think innovatively and deconstruct what they know about standard business practices, noted session panelists Liz Maw, president, and Dariush Rafinejad, provost of Presidio Graduate School and Stuart University of Bristol, Stuart Hart, of the University of Vermont, and Fr. Michael Garanzini, SJ, Secretary for Higher Education of the Jesuit Order. 

Hosted by Lerzan Aksoy, the Gabelli School’s associate dean of undergraduate studies and strategic initiatives, the panelists concurred that solving the world’s problems is encouraged by diversification of thought, engendered by professors with diverse backgrounds, specialties and perspectives, and that excluding social innovation from today’s educational curriculum fails to prepare students for future careers.

Jerry White, Nobel Laureate, of the University of Virginia (top left), Anuar Juraidini, of the Citi Foundation (top right), Florencia Librizzi, of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) (bottom left), and host Katherine Mulligan of Bamboo Capital (bottom right).

In a session on policy and outreach, Florencia Librizzi, of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), Anuar Juraidini, of the Citi Foundation, Jerry White, Nobel Laureate, of the University of Virginia and host Katherine Mulligan of Bamboo Capital,  discussed how a social innovation mindset enables movement beyond the circumstances created by the current pandemic. They emphasized how such a mindset also enables idea generation to spread and evolve more quickly among individuals and groups willing to join the conversation. 

On a hopeful note, they believed that social innovation will enable people to grow stronger together and survive the current health crisis better connected than they were before its arrival. 

Overall, Social Innovation Day 2020 provided students with inspiration, expert perspective, solutions and hope for the future. Attendee Spencer Krell, GABELLI ’21, stated that, “Today, I learned lessons I will never take for granted; specifically, how to preserve the world around me to better enact the change I am hoping to see.”

Julie Hardy, GABELLI ’22, mentioned that the conference reminded her of her favorite Albert Einstein quote: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” And Conor Burke, GABELLI ’22, stated that, although the conference was “dominated by the shadow of COVID-19,” the pandemic has provided everyone with “a clean slate of sorts” to build off of.

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