Adapting the SolutionsU Workshop for Student Engagement in Social Innovation

By Lauren Thomas, BYU Ballard Center

When we were approached by the student presidents of the “Humanities to Business” club about doing a social innovation workshop, we immediately tapped Katherine and Taylor at SolutionsU for help. They had come to our campus to launch the SolutionsU platform and ran an engaging workshop for hundreds of our students earlier that year. We used their workshop formula and their incredible SolutionsU platform to build our own Liberal Arts + Innovation workshop.

We wanted students to walk away from our workshop first with a knowledge of the Ballard Center, and with an appreciation of how their educational experience is valuable in the social innovation sphere. We wanted them to leave with the ability to match their skills and interested with the ability to solve social problems. We found the perfect blend of teaching and engagement with the SolutionsU articles.

We started the workshop by introducing the concept of innovation and three key terms in social impact: outputs, outcomes and impacts. After discussing the differences between these terms and their significance in measuring the effectiveness of solutions to social problems, we introduced the articles. Each group was given an article dealing with a specific issue: economic opportunity, maternal health, education, refugees, etc. We asked each student group to look for the specific issue, and the outputs, outcomes and impacts of the proposed solution in the article. After reading and discussing each article, groups presented their analysis to each other.

Considering they were introduced to these ideas just minutes before diving into an article, the students were very successful at understanding and finding the issues, outputs, outcomes and impacts of the solutions presented.

For example, students pulled apart the factors that contribute to high mortality rates for women in childbirth in Ethiopia, citing lack of access to information and emergency skills training. Students identified an app as a solution to this problem, finding that the app doubled health workers’ abilities to deliver effective treatments in emergency situations.

After presenting this findings, we revealed profiles of Ballard Center students, who study liberal arts, who were working on issues relating to each article. After discussing solutions to maternal health issues described above, we told the students about Jason, a Political Science major working on theY-Prize Maternal Health challenge in the Ballard Center. He is finding ways to deliver maternal and infant health solutions to health workers in rural areas around the world. We also told them about Alyssa, a sociology major working on projects that deliver solutions to refugees. We told them about Jonathan, a philosophy student working on an investment fund for social ventures.

Each student was able to see how their unique backgrounds in liberal arts uniquely qualified them for work in business, and more specifically in social impact. The SolutionsU articles were key in demonstrating both social problems and solutions to students. Each student left equipped with a new understanding of what social innovation is, how to determine what kinds of solutions are effective, and how they can make an impact themselves.