SHETTY & TRIVEDI: Behind the False Buzz of Buzzwords
[and Service]

What is “social impact”? Why does Georgetown crowd its campus with a consortium of seemingly undifferentiated innovation centers?

What’s the difference between the Beeck Center for Social Impact & Innovation and the Georgetown Social Enterprise Initiative (GSEI)? Is the Beeck Center’s mission to promote students in their effort to produce solution-based social change distinguishable from GSEI’s aim to prepare future leaders to create both economic and social value? Aren’t “social change” and “social value” clever ways of expressing the same idea?

Who writes these mission statements? Are their heads burrowed in a thesaurus? Are they more concerned with occupying a hyperniche than promoting a culture of collaboration on campus? Why are our most promising organizations often shrouded in indefinite and lofty rhetoric?

We’ll admit — it’s easy for us to sit on a pedestal and criticize a culture of redundancy; how difficult will it be for students and administrators to impose changes on territorial organizations with little incentive to stop, think and collaborate? How do we overcome the intransigence of our university’s brightest minds to develop an ecosystem of innovation?

Why is it so difficult for the layman to draw a link between these centers and our Jesuit identity? Why can’t these organizations make their relation to the university’s Jesuit ideals more explicit?

What kind of framework does the Social Innovation and Public Service Fund use to determine which of its projects are “socially innovative”? Why do so few MSB undergraduates, perhaps most likely to stray from our school’s Jesuit roots, engage or even know about GSEI? Why isn’t their input more aggressively sought?

Is the Institute of Politics and Public Service (IPPS) really a place where students “drive the conversation”? How do we know that the conversation isn’t happening over at GSEI? Or at the StartupHoyas’s Social Innovation Pitch Competition?

What about the MSB’s new Business, Society and Public Policy Initiative? The initiative provides an “enhanced platform” to support the convergence of global business, government and society — that seems to be a competitive advantage, right? Does the inclusivity of the platform take away from their ability to encourage focused change?

Why do Georgetown organizations work in silos? How can a school that exerts so much effort cultivating an atmosphere of collaboration be so bad at aligning its resources? How can a university with so much human capital create pockets of innovation that often squander the opportunity to capitalize on collective strengths?

If these organizations play distinct roles — thought leaders, policy makers, community conveners — why do their missions seem to conflate so many issues?

Most of all, what can we do to fix this? How can individual organizations, each with laudable goals, truly be more than the sum of their parts? How can we ensure that each organization is adding another level of intellectual and social depth rather than contributing to an environment of isolated action? How can a university change a system of independence in which it is so entrenched?

We believe there is concrete value in the work these organizations perform, but opportunities for students and faculty to learn and grow are cloaked in all-encompassing buzzwords that often make social impact seem inaccessible and vague. Ask ten students on campus to define social innovation today — you’ll get ten different definitions.

From the Beeck Center to GSEI, social service organizations at Georgetown represent tremendous achievement and potential; they bridge gaps between undergraduate schools that rarely cooperate. Their efforts underlie so many of our most treasured Jesuit traditions. They provide an open forum for students, faculty and communities to craft policy solutions that have real impact; in their ideal form, these organizations would teach us how to solve collective action problems in a sustainable manner and make our Jesuit identity that much more palpable.

These centers have already made strides: The Beeck Center sends dozens of students abroad through GU Impact and is a vital advocate for the White House’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative; the MSB’s GSEI “New Strategies” program deploys MBA students and faculty to help nonprofits bolster their understanding of revenue growth and management; SIPS has granted over $100,000 to students starting nonprofits and working on service projects around the world.

We must, however, expect that these organizations can do better for the community and for themselves. Organizations with social missions stand to benefit the most if they can effectively pool together resources, clarify their purposes and leverage their knowledge to heighten both the reach and impact of social innovation at Georgetown.

Rohan Shetty is a senior in the McDonough School of Business. Naman Trivedi is a senior in the School of Foreign Service.[and service] appears every other Tuesday.

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