Meet Our 2015 Social Innovation Incubator Members!

The Impact Entrepreneurs Social Innovation Incubator has emerged from hiatus! After taking a year off while we created our online certificate in the Business of Social Innovation, we are thrilled to be back.

We are excited to be working closely over the next year with four amazing new members. Check them out:


ConstructFoundationLogo136x46Construct Foundation is building a portfolio of partners and mutually reinforcing education initiatives to identify and support new models for teaching and learning, prioritizing K-12 students in Portland Metro’s underserved communities.


GGY_Logo_Red_White_400Gender Gap Year is closing the gaps in women’s representation, leadership, power and pay through an innovative gap year program in Portland Oregon.  Through badging, boldness, action, and self exploration, the year long program empowers women between 18 and 22 to live authentic, connected, and strategic lives of equity.

LanyiFan_0Lanyi Fan incubates locally-generated solutions and facilitates international relationships to address the high unemployment and environmental problems encroaching on existing livelihoods in West Africa.



The Pathways to Prosperity Initiative, an intrapreneurial program of nonprofit Self Enhancement Inc. (SEI), provides at-risk urban youth and their families in the Portland area “with the knowledge, skills and support needed to leverage economic opportunities and increase financial capability.”



Meet past members, find out more about the Social Innovation Incubator, and stay tuned to this blog for upcoming interviews with the inspiring founders from the 2015 class!

March 2, 2015 at 12:34 pm Leave a comment

Social Innovation in Higher Ed

We’ve set off to attend the annual Ashoka U Exchange. The event has grown each year and now includes over 650 university representatives and students who will convene in Washington D.C. to discuss and learn about how to further social innovation in higher education. The Exchange includes sessions such as “bringing social solutions narratives into the classroom” and “systems thinking for leading changemakers.”

Impact Entrepreneurs’ Director Cindy Cooper will be a featured panelist in Online Learning: Inspiring Stories from the Front Lines, an interactive conversation about triumphs and failures of booming online learning platforms. As a speaker on the panel, Cindy Cooper will share her experience developing a rigorous online certificate in social entrepreneurship supported by the reTHINK: PSU Provost’s Challenge.

Abby Chroman, Project Manager with Impact Entrepreneurs, will moderate Universities as Catalysts for Social Innovation, a presentation featuring two of the 2015 Cordes Innovation award winners that explores how universities leverage existing resources to partner with communities and spark social innovation.

Angela Merrill, PSU’s Changemaker Campus Liaison, is heading to the Exchange to research best practices for catalyzing connections and student engagement across campus.

Certificate graduate and Social Innovation Incubator member Gina Condon, founder of Construct Foundation, will also be attending to participate in the K-12 Changemaker Education track.

Follow @PSUimpact and #Exchange2015 for our real time updates on the speakers, field visits and everything social innovation this weekend and look for another IE blog on Exchange highlights early March.

February 26, 2015 at 7:35 am Leave a comment

Pathways to Changemaking

This post was contributed by Angela Merrill, Undergraduate at Portland State University’s Urban Honors College & Changemaker Campus Liaison

“Wherever we are in the world, we can commit ourselves to change.”
– Tichelle Sorenson, Director of the Portland State MBA


Abby Chroman, Todd Ferry, Eric O’Connell, and Rhian Rotz

Since learning the term ‘social entrepreneurship,’ as a senior in high school, I have been presented with a variety of definitions for it. From Mohammed Yunus at the Grameen Bank, who was called a social entrepreneur for his work building the microfinance industry, to CanCity in Brazil, which empowers trash collectors to create furniture from melted-down cans, new ventures redefine the field every day.

Now, as the new student intern with PSU’s Impact Entrepreneurs, I’m not just out to define social entrepreneurship with a boundary for where it starts and stops because realistically, not everyone wants or needs to become a social entrepreneur. Finding an authentic personal journey to make change is still an important step towards creating more happiness (and less suffering) in our world.

Impact Entrepreneurs and the PSU Alumni Association share my conviction. Earlier this month they invited three changemakers to present at a lively event at Bridgeport Brewery. They each talked about finding their unique path to creating positive social impact throughout their lives and careers. Here my takeaways from their stories.

Todd Ferry

Know what’s out there, contact an expert and help good people do good things.”

Currently a Research Associate at the Center for Public Interest Design (CPID) at PSU’s School of Architecture, Todd started off studying philosophy as an undergrad and became involved in various NGOs at rape and refugee call centers. Increasingly, he found himself needing to solve problems of design and, after watching a PBS documentary on Public Interest Design, decided to become an architect to work with (and not for) communities of underserved populations. Not only did Brad Pitt narrate the documentary, but it also featured CPID’s own director Sergio Palleroni – a leader in the field of Public Interest Design.

Rhian Rotz

Subscribe to be a lifelong learner and connect with those experts you might not normally connect with. Be curious. Agility is the strongest muscle, so being adaptable and having transferrable skills will help you be ready to tell your story.”

A self-proclaimed storyteller, Rhian is a serial “intrapreneur” who leads Corporate Citizenship at Waggener Edstrom Worldwide – one of the largest public relations firms in the world. She enables change by aligning the overall strategy of her clients and employees to create purpose and profit within the corporate giant.

At around 5pm each day, an alarm goes off on Rhian’s phone that says “Was today worth it?” She says the day she answers no to the question above, it’s the day to quit.

In the same way she aligns other business strategies with purpose, she too has learned that aligning herself with her company and personally defining impact is a key step in the journey.

Eric O’Connell

Have the audacity to step out of a predetermined role. If you have a crazy idea, do it.”

The skills software engineers employ are in high demand across sectors, and Eric’s story is no different. Although a first job working for a stock analysis firm paid him well monetarily, something didn’t feel quite right. After being fired from this job, he listened closely to his mind/body connection to discover where his passion was leading him – to make things and share them with people. Now a technologist with, he is able to do this by creating a platform that directly facilitates online users to find their own pathway to changemaking. He says, “At Idealist, we don’t necessarily have the skills to save the whales. But if you want to save the whales, we want to help you find other people who want to save the whales and can help you do it.”

It doesn’t matter to me that Eric, Todd, and Rhian didn’t introduce themselves as social entrepreneurs. They have found creative and pragmatic ways to solve the problems they see in their lives and they have crafted careers to address those issues. They are changemakers who inspired the audience to find their own pathways to changemaking.

February 23, 2015 at 11:31 am Leave a comment

Book Review: “A Path Appears” by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

PatrickThis review was contributed by Patrick Ditty, Undergraduate at Portland State University’s School of Business Administration

“A Path Appears,” the latest book by Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, takes the reader on a journey starting with the story of a nine year-old girl who convinced people to donate money to provide clean drinking water for individuals around the world and ending with the tale of two college students that turned a homework assignment into an organization that delivers healthy school lunches to low-income schools in America. Through these captivating examples, this book makes the case that you do not have to be rich or business savvy to help make a change, and that problems exist closer to home than you might think.

A primary message in “A Path Appears” is that even small contributions IMG_0315can create a real impact in social issues across our nation and around the world. What may seem like a drop in the bucket can change someone’s life for the better. So often we find ourselves not contributing because we feel we don’t have enough to offer. This book teaches us that with a small amount of research and care you can make a change no matter how much money, time or experience you have.

Kristof and WuDunn also use this opportunity to challenge the common notion that issues like malnutrition, extreme violence, and lack of education only affect people in developing nations. The authors show us a different reality. They paint a picture in one story of Chicago’s west side, where three murders a day is the norm. “How could this happen in a developed country, in a wealthy city?” We ask. “And how can we stop it?” The powerful solution that Kristof and WuDunn illustrate here didn’t start with economic development or criminal justice, but with an open mind. Dr. Gary Slutkin, a medical doctor born a raised in Chicago, had an extensive background in infectious diseases. He worked around the world on illnesses from tuberculosis to HIV with a special focus on eradicating transmission. When Slutkin began looking at Chicago’s violence as an infectious, transmittable disease, he started to find ways to treat the problem as such. He looked at the time and place where violence would begin to escalate, or to move from one family to another, and that’s where he started stopping it. This is just one of the many stories that demonstrate that you don’t have to look across the world to find a problem and solve it. Sometimes you just have to look around you.

“A Path Appears” is full of powerful moments capable of motivating even the most skeptical person into wanting to make a change. Every night after reading the stories in this book I excitedly told my wife about things people across the world were doing to make a change. This book will drive you to take action and that step, even a small “drop in the bucket,” might just change someone’s life.

You can order a copy of “A Path Appears” here

February 9, 2015 at 2:21 pm Leave a comment

A Prediction for the Social Entrepreneurship Education Trends of Tomorrow


Social entrepreneurship has come on strong in the education space with an ever-growing number of institutions teaching entrepreneurial skills with a lens on social issues. From the midst of a fast-changing field, Impact Entrepreneurs at Portland State University paused to consider the social entrepreneurship education trends of tomorrow.

Business students will choose a focus on intrapreneurship 

Social intrapreneurs use entrepreneurial practices inside existing organizations and institutions. Because their innovations ultimately yield bigger impact for their employers, intrapreneurs are in high demand. In the last few years, we have seen the rise of the social intrapreneur as one of the most prized employees. In the next five years, educators will include intrapreneurship in social entrepreneurship curriculum, organizations and institutions will fund employees’ pursuit of intrapreneurship education, and social ventures will thrive with intrapreneurs running programs and operations with new ideas and creative leadership. Join The League of Intrapreneurs here.

Boomers will join the ranks of social innovation students

The number of Americans age 55 and older will double in the next 25 years, and they’re not ready to quit. They will have a lifetime of experience and want to work on something they care about. It’s a huge opportunity. In many cases these encore professionals will seek training and education for their new stage of life and work. They will enroll in social entrepreneurship programs alongside younger generations to build skills and pathways to work with social purpose organizations and companies. Colleges and universities will craft experiences and curriculum for these new cross-generational audiences. Discover research, examples, and opportunities from the encore movement at

The world will see developing countries as sources of social innovation

The old narrative says that when wealthier nations invest in leadership and R&D, the solutions they invent benefit the rest of the world. But the developing world is a rich environment for social innovation where entrepreneurial leaders, often focused on their own markets, are effectively addressing pressing social problems daily. Now companies, countries, and organizations spot ideas from the developing world that could be successfully utilized in other contexts. Education institutions will follow this lead, guiding students to search for solutions from the developing world and practice collaborating with local innovators to grow their solutions for broad, international social benefit. Find a great example in this story about Kenya’s leadership in mobile money.

Programs and departments will collaborate across campus

The days are gone when the majority of students leave their university with one skill that they bring to their one job where they work forever. Now students demand a broad spectrum of experiences to support their career, which increasingly include a variety of roles. Social innovation and social entrepreneurship programs in particular will adapt by collaborating across campus, leveraging cross-disciplinary infrastructure, and building pathways for students to get the depth and breadth of experiences that will help them succeed throughout their lives as changemakers. Impact Entrepreneurs at Portland State University is collaborating with departments across campus to deliver the Certificate in The Business of Social Innovation.

Employers across sectors will look for changemakers 

The most in-demand skills from employers match the goals of social entrepreneurship educators. Examples include leadership, creativity, empathy, hands-on training, problem solving, judgement and decision-making, and perceptiveness. As the overlaps between in-demand job skills and social innovation skills become more obvious, employers will partner with education institutions to fund programs that systematically benefit their workforce, their institutions and ultimately their impact. We’ve collected information here illustrating how the most in-demand job skills among employers today match social entrepreneurship curriculum.

January 12, 2015 at 7:45 am 1 comment

Research Shows that Employers Want to Hire Changemakers link

Employers increasingly want to hire more entrepreneurial, more ethical, more impactful employees. And it’s no coincidence that the skills taught in Portland State University’s online Certificate in Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship (a “changemaker certificate“) match those most desired by employers. As work becomes more complex and demand for creativity and flexibility grows, the skills linked to creating positive social and environmental impact — those of a “changemaker” — increasingly overlap with those that help organizations succeed financially.

The influential economist Michael Porter argues that businesses succeed when they create value not just for owners, but “shared value” for society as well. A similar approach is embraced by nearly 1200 sustainable businesses that have obtained B Corp certification, and by the 27 states that now allow Benefit Corporations as a distinct legal entity. The social entrepreneurs recognized as Ashoka or Skoll fellows have been pursuing transformative approaches to creating value for society, around the world, for decades. But it’s not just triple-bottom-line businesses, social enterprises, and nonprofits that want changemakers as employees; traditional businesses do as well.

How do we know? We looked at five recent surveys of in-demand job skills covering more than 4000 employers and 5600 individuals both in the United States and around the world (from MckinseyGeorgetown University; the National Association of Colleges and EmployersGallup/Lumina Foundation; and a consortium of employer organizations). We then looked at the top 10 human skills listed in each survey, separating out training in specific technical skills such as math, English fluency, and computer literacy. What we found is that the remaining skills line up neatly with the attributes of successful changemakers identified across studies summarized by faculty at the University of Northampton (an Ashoka U Changemaker Campus, like Portland State University).

For example, the top job skills demanded across all five employment surveys — oral communication, written communication, and critical thinking/problem solving — were also identified as critical attributes of successful changemakers in a number of research papers. Work ethic and teamwork, the next most desired skills, were likewise shared across both sets of research. Creativity, leadership, and self-management are key to both employability and successful change creation. Even skills like ethics and initiative, essential for social entrepreneurs, are highly desired by employers.

Our students explore each of these top skills in our certificate program. Experiential assignments and applied learning prepare them to launch a venture or to work effectively for an employer. Each student creates and refines a solution to a social or environmental problem of their choice, using best practices from design thinking, lean entrepreneurship, and leadership. Whether or not they decide to make their social venture a reality, they’re learning the most in-demand skills to be successful wherever life takes them. And we’re glad to know employers increasingly believe that employees who create shared value are also the most valued.

Changemakers on the Portland, Oregon field study option of PSU's Certificate in Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship.

Changemakers on the Portland, Oregon field study option of PSU’s Certificate in Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship.

By Jacen Greene, Program Manager for Social Enterprise Initiatives, Impact Entrepreneurs at Portland State University

January 7, 2015 at 10:49 am 2 comments

Partnerships for Health from PSU to Rwanda

This post was contributed by Jonathan Fink, Vice Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 12.32.17 PMPresident of Research & Strategic Partnerships at Portland State University. It was originally posted in the Research & Strategic Partnerships Quarterly Review, Fall 2014

For the Fall 2014 term, PSU Mechanical Engineering Professor Evan Thomas is in the tiny, east African nation of Rwanda working on an ambitious program, locally called Tubeho Neza (“Live well”), to help reduce childhood mortality from diarrhea and pneumonia by distributing water filters and clean-burning cook stoves to the poorest quarter of this UN designated Least Developed Country (LDC). The project is run by DelAgua Health, of which Evan is the Chief Operating Officer, in partnership with the Rwandan Ministry of Health. This report is based on a recent visit I made to Evan’s inspiring operation.

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 12.44.55 PM

Much of the funding for the project comes from the sale of United Nations issued carbon credits, made possible because the filters and stoves reduce the villagers’ need for firewood, thus lessening the pressure on Rwanda’s mostly-depleted forests. Receiving carbon credit funding requires careful monitoring of the use of the stoves and filters, which is done by independent auditing organizations, as well as through a robust research program run out of PSU in collaboration with the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU), the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Emory University, the University of Colorado at Boulder, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Rwanda.

Tracking the performance and usage of stoves and filters is accomplished in part through the use of wireless transmitters that Evan and his co-workers at PSU have developed, which are embedded in approximately 1% of the deployed filters and stoves. The transmitters send usage data over the ubiquitous cell-phone network to the research and programmatic teams. These sensors are also deployed in 14 other countries by PSU, and allow philanthropic, public and private funders of public health programs to know whether their investments are being used and having impact.

I observed the deployment that was part of the second of Tubeho Neza’s three phases. Phase I, which was completed in 2012, reached 10,000 people in 15 villages. Phase II, which began in September 2014 and is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2014, should reach 500,000 people in 2600 villages. Phase III in 2015 aims to serve at least 2M people in 13,000 villages.

Rwandan family learning how to use their new water filter.

Rwandan family learning how to use their new water filter.

DelAgua, which is a social enterprise, hopes that the less poor 3/4 of the population, seeing the health benefits received by their neighbors, will choose to purchase stoves and filters for themselves, helping the company recover their costs and allowing them to continue to receive payments for carbon credits.

Each deployment is a complex, well-choreographed operation. Filters and stoves are picked up at DelAgua’s warehouses in Kigali and delivered to the villages by the Rwandan National Police, contingent on the roads being passable, which is not always the case, especially during the two annual rainy seasons. Coordination is done ahead of time with the village leaders, who confirm the identities of each community member that will be receiving filters and stoves. Local Community Health Workers (CHW), who are employees of the national government and get trained by DelAgua staff, assist with the distribution.

The actual deployment kicks off with speeches by a village leader and a DelAgua project manager, who outline what will be taking place over the following few hours. Next, the CHWs put on a humorous play, depicting the health effects of contaminated drinking water and dirty indoor air from cooking. This is followed by more speeches telling the villagers about how the filters and pumps work, and the nature of the program, including warnings to not steal or try to sell the devices. Each recipient then gets checked off a list by a village leader, gets their stove and filter, along with a poster that shows how they’re used, and heads back to their home. CHWs then go to every home to explain again how the devices work, using a picture book as well as the poster. They also conduct a survey about the family, which provides baseline information about demographics and helps in calculating carbon credits. GPS locations and photos of the homes are recorded, along with bar codes for the filters and stoves. Before the end of the day, after the families have had an opportunity to try their devices, the CHWs return to make sure everything is working properly. All of these activities are designed to be robust implementations of well-established health behavior change methodology.

The community members I met seemed grateful and intrigued by the whole process. The scale is ramping up rapidly, but the underlying public private partnership model for aid distribution is not yet well established. Success requires the cooperation of the community, the National Police, the Ministry of Public Health, the CHWs, DelAgua’s leadership, the manufacturers of the stoves and filters, the organizations providing the carbon credits, and the weather. I found the ambition and scale of the program to be mind-boggling. If they succeed, it could radically change the way global assistance is done.

As if the humanitarian aspects of Tubeho Neza were not impactful enough, DelAgua’s work in Rwanda is also the subject of a major scientific research program encompassing mechanical and electrical engineering, tropical medicine, epidemiology, statistics, and climate change. The PSU-led team of researchers described above are participating in a large-scale randomized controlled trial (RCT) to evaluate the health impacts of the filter and stove deployments. DelAgua is the primary funder of this research effort, with some additional support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Nearly $2M of funding has come through PSU for this program over the past two years.

Comparison with 40,000 households in the control areas is used to help evaluate the 100,000 households in the program areas. The team is measuring villagers’ behavior and device use through a combination of the PSU sensors, self-reported health conditions, blood samples, blood pressure, and in situ air and water quality monitoring. This information is then compared with clinically reported pneumonia and diarrhea cases among children under 5. This is one of the largest environmental health RCTs ever run.

In addition to the DelAgua program, PSU leads a separate research project, funded by the British Department for International Development, to put sensors on 200 hand pumps across Rwanda to assess the relative efficacy of three different operation and maintenance models with the goal of seeing if sensors can improve the cost-effectiveness of water service delivery in developing countries. This is a critical issue because worldwide, roughly half of the water pumps installed by governments and aid programs are broken at any given time, and estimates of compliance with international metrics such as the Millennium Development Goals are likely over estimating progress.

These projects are expected to result in a large number of scientific publications in the next few years, and will open the door to many additional funding opportunities for comparable programs in several other developing world settings. In addition to the social and economic benefits in the targeted countries, this work can demonstrate the beneficial role of cutting-edge engineering technology in international development, expand the market for carbon credits, extend the global reach of Oregon companies and institutions, form part of the foundation for the new joint OHSU-PSU School of Public Health, and provide unique training opportunities for students from the US, UK, Rwanda, and other LDCs.

December 1, 2014 at 1:02 pm Leave a comment

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