In 2009, the Lewis Family Foundation gave a generous gift to Babson College with the express desire to galvanize faculty, students, staff, and alumni around the greater notions of social entrepreneurship and social impact, influencing Babson’s core strategy to educate leaders who will create economic and social value simultaneously.

This gift seeded a startup mindset within Babson’s Institute for Social Innovation (formerly called the Lewis Institute for Social Innovation) that ensured the investment would be relevant and responsive to all Babson stakeholders around the world.

From Day One

From Day One

We teach our community that you do not have to wait to create positive impact. Take action, whether small or large steps. Just start!

“There are no rules here — we’re trying to accomplish something.” — Thomas Edison

There were no established rules or maps, just a strong desire to see something manifested in a Babson way that added value to an already extraordinary institution with extraordinary faculty and resources. The gift enhanced Babson’s entrepreneurial culture, emphasizing social, environmental, and economic value creation as a defining core aspect of its strategy. The Institute enrolled both usual and unusual suspects and cultivated those relationships for mutually beneficial success. And most importantly, it employed Babson’s very own methodology of Entrepreneurial Thought & Action® (ET&A™) to create its way forward.

From its beginning, the Institute for Social Innovation had a predisposition for change in service to greater relevancy. There were a few simple guideposts that helped us begin focusing our efforts:

  • Be relevant and responsive to the Babson culture
  • Aim to be a recognized leader in the domain of social innovation through both curricular and co-curricular activities
  • Engage anyone and everyone who could push us and partner with us so that we could learn and live into our expanded mission in an impactful way
  • Practice Babson’s ET&A methodology every day so as to always reflect and react to the changing needs of our Babson community and the broader society

“Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Lewis gift enabled us to jump-start and create a self-sustaining entity, acting like a startup inside an academic institution and building the institute in real-time. We developed it knowing that where we started would not be where we would eventually end up. How we started and how we acted informed and helped us define how we were going to grow. In other words, we had what our executive director Cheryl Kiser calls “flexagility.” Our funder and college leadership supported our need for flexibility and agility to practice ET&A so our impact could be experienced, measured, and reimagined continually.

At the beginning, we benchmarked against the great centers on social entrepreneurship and social innovation. We mapped the ecosystem and we learned a great deal about what was important to know, who was important to know, and what was necessary to provide to begin the institute’s journey. We wrote our manifesto on social value creation.

For over a decade, the Institute for Social Innovation used its gift to make social innovation and social impact accessible. Our work expanded into researching the importance of social value creation, entrepreneurial leadership, and social design as an imperative to success in any sector.

 “Never underestimate the power of a good conversation.” – Cheryl Kiser

One of the ways we engage our community is through conversations for possibility, relationships, and action, which we call Uncommon Tables. At least once a week, we convene around some of the most important conversations that matter most to our students and community. We talk broadly and deeply, discussing the UN Global Goals, values-based leadership, disrupting the food system, the purpose of capital, new business models for impact, positive disruption, and more.

For our community, “Do Something That Matters” has become a mantra and a movement. It has activated changemakers to reflect on what calls them to do what they do. It has encouraged students and entrepreneurial leaders to take their next steps in advancing one or more of the UN Global Goals, regardless of their role or sector. In a very ET&A way, it has helped bring together a collaborative community of positive disruptors.

“Enrollment is not about getting somebody to do something that you want them to do. It’s about offering them the chance to do something they might want to do.” — Leonard A. Schlesinger

The Institute for Social Innovation is a self-sustaining, revenue-generating area of the College. It’s an ecosystem for social innovation. It’s a connector to resources. It’s a convener of thought leadership. It’s an activator of new thinking and new ideas. It is not wed to one specific type of research.

The initial gift created the runway to attract more gifts and revenue-generating activities. We’ve continued to employ ET&A to create a series of action tanks that act as self-sustaining entities underneath us — all in support and service of the broader mission of the College to educate leaders to create economic and social value simultaneously.

And most importantly, we’ve become a home for students and stakeholders driven to Do Something That Matters.