How Students Can Get Involved In Social Innovation

Author: Arvind Ashok

Despite the socially-conscious nature of college students today, getting involved in the social innovation and nonprofit space often seems like a daunting task. Part of the problem is the lack of a structured pathway into the space. While there’s often a funnel pushing students into careers with big, established companies, opportunities with social innovation companies often aren’t immediately visible.

Instead of looking for a formalized recruiting process, students who want to get involved in social innovation can look for opportunities in less conventional ways. For example, 3 Day Startup can help aspiring entrepreneurs find the people and support needed to bring their socially innovative ideas to life. They hold educational programs teaching entrepreneurship in universities around the world. Additionally, many universities have centers dedicated to solving pressing social problems, such as the RGK Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

Students can also find internships in the social sector. The first step is to do some research into the social innovation space, and start contacting companies that interest them to find out how they can contribute. While this process may be intimidating at first, the rewards are worth the effort. Social innovation organizations often have less formally defined roles and shifting priorities, which means that incoming students can take on significant responsibility.

This responsibility can come in the form of an internship, or simply a recurring volunteering experience with a social innovation organization. While there’s a perception that the social innovation space attracts people with liberal arts backgrounds, it’s important not to discount the potential contribution of people with hard technical skills. Social innovation organizations need to manage information, overcome logistical challenges, and position themselves as leaders within their industry via marketing to operate - just like any other organization. This means that students, regardless of major or background, can greatly help companies grow to better serve the community.

Due to the rapid growth of the Austin community, there’s a greater need than ever for students to use their talent to help solve social challenges. By looking for internship and volunteer opportunities at social innovation companies, such as the tenants at the Center for Social Innovation, students can learn and advance their careers while also tackling pressing social challenges.  

Madi Finley