Interdisciplinary Social Entrepreneurship: Innovations Making a Difference

Photo Credit: Angelica Recierdo

The Fast Company Innovation Festival took place in New York City in November 2016. Over 6,000 people attended insider talks and interactive workshops on innovation and creativity throughout disciplines and industries. A group of Global Health Corps (GHC) fellows and staff were selected to participate and also met GHC co-founder Andrew Bentley! Here are ten takeaways about cross-sector innovation from the festival:

1. Tech x Social Justice

“The more digitally connected we are, the fewer chances there are of large-scale human rights abuses.” Malika Saada Sar of Google spoke eloquently with a panel of activists, technologists, and singer John Legend on the role of big data in criminal justice reform. Everything must be documented and accounted for in the legal system — so why aren’t court files digitized yet? Our cell phones are powerful tools for justice and serve as a platform for evidence in a time of police brutality and violence.

2. Biotech x Community Development

Genspace is aiming to make biotechnology more accessible and consumer-friendly through a community lab in Brooklyn. Ellen Jorgensen, Co-founder and Executive Director, envisions a world where biotechnology is as commonplace as electricity. The potential for the DIY space and science to come together will be immense — the average person can now be empowered to experiment and do “wondrous prototyping” without the barrier that obtaining a formal degree can impose on a curious mind.

3. Women x Tech

Melinda Gates shared that in 2014 an introductory computer science class at UC Berkeley had more female enrollees than male simply because it was titled “The Joy and Beauty of Computing.” To make women feel more included in the tech industry, we need to consciously open up the field for them to join and remove barriers to young women developing interest and advancing in their careers in the sector.

4. Diversity x Business Development

Diversity and Inclusion Leader of Pinterest, Candace Morgan, knows firsthand that there is a direct benefit to sitting across from someone different from you, someone you can’t make assumptions about. Candace believes that you don’t get the advantage of risk-taking and innovation if your team is not diverse. Companies that won’t invest in diversity simply won’t win. Candace emphasized that the only way to disrupt bias at work is to plan for it and design for safe, inclusive workplaces.

5. Food x Media

Tasty is now the world’s largest food network. What started as an iPhone video is now a platform that is shaking up the concept of cooking so much that it attracts 500 million monthly viewers. The innovation was simple — filming from the user’s perspective so that cooking is seen as fun, interactive, and easy enough for the average person to do well. Tasty has expanded to several different countries to explore recipes from different cultures and has inspired platforms on design, health and wellness, fitness, etc.

6. Transportation x Women Empowerment

Saudi Princess Reema Bint Bindar Al-Saud shared that Uber is now a vector for civic change in her country. It is changing the face of women’s mobility by empowering them to travel independently to go to work and other places without having to depend on a male relative, spouse, or driver. A fierce health and fitness advocate, Reema believes increased access to transportation for women can have direct health benefits by allowing Saudi women access to more fitness options.

7. Stories x Cancer

What’s a cancer expert’s advice for innovating in other fields? “Keep your sense of wonder alive.” Curing cancer is a story of persistence and an exquisite balance between being nimble and moving forward. Targeted immunotherapy currently has the research world’s attention but rethinking prevention will be promising. It is not always the stories of hope and curing that motivate this industry, but the patient stories of those that have been failed, those who could not be saved in time.

8. Travel x Education

The world needs more empathetic, creative, and entrepreneurial people to solve our most pressing issues. Abby Falik, Founder and CEO of Global Citizen Year, believes the most important thing a young adult can do is to travel and work with diverse people and perspectives. Education needs to be leveraged to exercise our “empathy muscle” by increasing equitable access to travel opportunities. Abby believes — and hopes — that by the time her young children are of college-age, traditional college won’t exist. It’s time to re-imagine college education as more than just four years of seat time.

9. Meditation x Workplace Development

Eileen Fisher begins her meetings with a moment of silence initiated by the striking of a gong. This allows her and her company to reflect and deepen their work. She is not a stranger to the fact that the fashion industry is one of the largest polluters in the world. Her commitment to sustainability in a time of fast fashion makes her brand stand out. She also advocates for everyone to participate in meetings by allowing for two minutes of uninterrupted speaking. “Give yourself space to show up; the caring will come naturally.” The gentleness in how Eileen Fisher does business is something we can all benefit from in our work.

10. Women’s Health x Fashion

THINX Cofounder and CEO Miki Agrawal once made a male investor wear a pad so that he could relate to her consumer market — women. He later invested in THINX, a step in the right direction for innovating in a taboo field like designing underwear that is both functional and attractive to wear for the menstruating woman. After receiving pushback from the transgender community, the THINX team developed boyshorts to serve a portion of women that were unfortunately not previously included. THINX is continuing to evolve by designing underwear for older, incontinent women and advocating for women and girls in the developing world where having a period is an obstacle to participating in work and school.

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