A summer of impact

By Matthew Biddle

Del Reid, founder of 26Shirts, introduces the Social Impact Fellows to his organization, which prints limited-edition sports T-shirts to benefit charities or families in need. Photo: Onion Studio

Thanks to a new fellowship program, UB graduate students can now spend their summer discovering and creating social innovation.

Launched this summer as part of the ongoing collaboration between the School of Management and School of Social Work, the Social Impact Fellows program pairs a management student with a social work student for an eight-week internship at a local organization, where they collaborate on ideas to address a social issue facing the community. The pilot program was funded by a gift from the UB President’s Circle to the School of Social Work.

With support from the Blackstone LaunchPad at UB, students also visit regional social enterprises and participate in a weekly Startup Experience session with Tom Ulbrich, assistant dean and executive director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, that introduces entrepreneurial principles. In addition, during sessions with social work faculty, the fellows learn to identify and define social challenges and generate sustainable solutions to those challenges.

“The program represents a real opportunity for our fellows to strengthen their creative problem-solving skills and distinguish themselves from their peers,” says Maureen Hammett, vice dean and chief of staff in the School of Social Work. “We’re committed to ensuring this pilot program becomes a permanent opportunity for our students.”

Among the inaugural cohort’s projects, students worked with the Matt Urban Hope Center on developing a social enterprise to serve formerly homeless individuals, assisted the WNY Women’s Foundation in launching an initiative to promote gender equity in business, developed a strategic plan for the Primary Palliative Care program at Erie County Medical Center and proposed alternative solutions to reduce food waste at McCullough Coffee Roasters.

During the final presentations for their peers and supervisors, the fellows discussed the program they developed and its long-term economic viability, and delivered five-minute pitches for funding. Blackstone venture coaches will work with the fellows this fall to build their ideas or develop new ones, keeping the entrepreneurial spirit alive.

“Together, management and social work students can use knowledge from both disciplines to form creative ideas that have social impact and financial stability,” says Hadar Borden, program director at Blackstone LaunchPad. “Through this process, our students will develop an entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial mindset, so they can innovate within any organization — and be more competitive in the job market.

“Moreover, as they refine and implement their strategic plan, it will have reverberating effects on Western New York and the UB community.”