“Social innovation is not a side project that is separate from the rest of your life; it is a way of thinking about the world that values human rights, and is expressed through actions that solve social problems.”
In the final posts of our blog series on social innovation, we asked two students to examine the definition of social innovation on our website. Here Ben Chesler ’15, co-founder of the Food Recovery Network, shares what social innovation means to him.
This week, Brown hosts the Ashoka U Exchange, an annual convening of 650 students, university leaders, faculty, and entrepreneurs from over 150 institutions and 40 countries that explores social innovation in higher education. Learn more.
“Social innovation is the pursuit of transformative, innovative, sustainable solutions to the world’s problems.”
Glad I got that out of the way. While it’s a good definition, it doesn’t fully explain what social innovation means to me. To do that, I need to explain how my experiences have been intertwined with social innovation, and how the concept has impacted my life and my work. From the moment I heard of the term “Social Innovation” I was obsessed with joining the “club” of social innovators, which in my mind was people who spoke at conferences, got awards, and talked on CNN about the amazing work they were doing. I soon got my opportunity.
Warning, shameless plug ahead: During my freshman year at Brown, I co-founded the Food Recovery Network, which works with students on college campuses to recover food from their dining halls and donate it to people in need. The organization grew quickly, expanding to 50 colleges within two years, and we were receiving recognition for our work, from a Starr Fellowship to large foundation grants to interviews with news stations (we still never got the coveted CNN, but MSNBC wasn’t too far from it). I was riding high at that point; I had done it. I had created transformative, innovative, sustainable change, and therefore, in my mind, I was a Social Innovator. I think I half-expected a club membership card to some in the mail, with the title “Ben Chesler – Social Innovator for Life”. After a year of hard work, I handed over the operations of FRN to a team of paid staff, and returned to my “normal” life of hiking, theatre, and college classes, with the confidence of someone who had accomplished his goals in life.