Creating social innovation in Western New York

UB Social Impact Fellows address needs of foster youth and other critical issues

Release Date: August 14, 2017 This content is archived.

“After participating in the fellowship, I understand and recognize how integral it is to merge the social work and business fields in developing a program to serve those in need. ”
Jonathan Puma, Social Impact Fellow
University at Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. — When foster kids age out of the system, many lack the knowledge, skills and resources to live independently. Studies show a third will experience homelessness by age 26.

With about 20,000 kids aging out every year, this is a critical problem — one a University at Buffalo School of Management student and a UB School of Social Work student tackled together this summer.

In the first cohort of UB’s Social Impact Fellowship, UB graduate students spent the summer learning about and creating social innovation in Western New York. Presented in collaboration with the Blackstone LaunchPad at UB, the program paired a management and social work student for an eight-week internship at a local mission-driven organization, where they worked together on ideas to address systemic social issues.

Each week, the fellows spent four days with their partner organizations and one day in sessions with management and social work faculty, who provided a comprehensive introduction to entrepreneurial principles and taught them how to identify, define and generate solutions for social challenges. Students also visited other regional social enterprises and attended forums on economic development and social justice.

Merging disciplines

Cheyenne Ketter-Franklin and Jonathan Puma, an MBA student and Master of Social Work (MSW) student, respectively, worked with Belmont Housing Resources for Western New York to develop a sustainable program that would provide rental assistance and support services to combat homelessness and help foster youth aging out of the system achieve economic self-sufficiency.

The pair researched this population and programs around the country, met with other local agencies and conducted a focus group of foster youth. With those insights, they drafted a business plan to adapt Belmont’s existing programs to the unique needs of this population, created new policies and procedures, connected Belmont with potential partner organizations and developed other materials, including a resource guide, goal checklist and marketing collateral.

“Working with Belmont and seeing the day-to-day operations of a nonprofit were quite eye-opening,” says Ketter-Franklin, who has a marketing concentration in the MBA program. “I’ve learned that the skills I developed in business school are applicable to a wide range of organizations — but to truly address problems of this magnitude, you need to gain input from the population in need before moving forward.”

Through the fellowship, social work and management students gained an appreciation for the skills their counterparts bring — and how they can leverage their diverse backgrounds to combat social problems.

“My father has worked in the addictions field for 40 years and always tells me how important it is for agencies to grasp both the addiction side and the management side to function and serve their clients,” Puma says. “Now, after participating in the fellowship, I understand and recognize how integral it is to merge the social work and business fields in developing a program to serve those in need.”

Pitch for a Cause

In addition to housing and economic challenges, the Social Impact Fellows also confronted such issues as gender equity, health care, food waste and community development. Through their internships, pairs of fellows worked with the following organizations: Child and Family Services’ Employee Assistance Program, Erie County Medical Center Palliative Care program, GObike Buffalo, Lt. Col. Matt Urban Human Services Center of WNY, McCullagh Coffee Roasters, Veterans One-Stop Center of Western New York and the WNY Women’s Foundation.

On July 28, the program culminated with the Pitch for a Cause idea competition, when the student teams presented their innovative solutions and competed for funding to help their partner organizations continue to implement their ideas. Ulla Bak, co-founder and president of Bak USA; Karen Spaulding, vice president of philanthropic support for the John R. Oishei Foundation; and Michael Weiner, president and CEO of the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County, judged the pitches.

Ketter-Franklin and Puma were named the winners and earned $2,000 for Belmont Housing Resources, which plans to use the funds to purchase housing essentials, including beds and mattresses, for its new program.

“The students created a comprehensive program based on a solid foundation of research that has the potential to help youth aging out of foster care find and afford stable housing, support their educational and financial goals, and help set them up for a self-sufficient future,” says Amanda Wilton, a housing and financial coach at Belmont. “We were so impressed with their professionalism, initiative and how well they worked as a team, while each bringing their specific strengths to the work.”

Coming in second place was Juwan Thompson and Colleen Kristich, an MBA and MSW student respectively, who interned at the Lt. Col. Matt Urban Human Services Center of WNY. Together, they developed a screen-printing enterprise to employ formerly homeless individuals living with mental health care needs. The team won $1,000 for the center — and, in a surprise twist, Weiner announced the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County would match that with a second $1,000 award.

The inaugural Social Impact Fellowship was funded by a gift from the UB President’s Circle to the School of Social Work.

Next summer, the program will be offered again thanks to the generous support of the Charles D. and Mary A. Bauer Foundation. Applications for 2018 partner organizations will open this fall.

Blackstone LaunchPad is a campus-based experiential entrepreneurship program open to students, alumni, staff and faculty offering coaching, ideation and venture creation support. It is modeled on a successful program originated at the University of Miami and was further developed and expanded by the Blackstone Charitable Foundation.

The UB School of Social Work offers a Master of Social Work (MSW), including an online MSW, a PhD in social welfare and dual degrees with law, management and public health. With an innovative approach to social work education, the school integrates a trauma-informed and human rights perspective in its curriculum, offers collaborative research projects and presents the biweekly inSocialWork podcast. The school is ranked by U.S. News & World Report in the top 10% of schools of social work across the country, and accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. For more information about the UB School of Social Work, visit

The UB School of Management is recognized for its emphasis on real-world learning, community and economic impact, and the global perspective of its faculty, students and alumni. The school also has been ranked by Bloomberg Businessweek, Forbes and U.S. News & World Report for the quality of its programs and the return on investment it provides its graduates. For more information about the UB School of Management, visit

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School of Management