Be the Change: The Social Innovation Program

The summer after my freshman year of college allowed me to make strides in advancing my career goals and lifetime dreams: my interest in social entrepreneurship and my dream of creating positive change in the world. This summer, I participated in a month-long professional development program called the Social Innovation Program (SIP) at George Mason University. SIP is the “world’s largest running institute training university students to become the next generation of social entrepreneurs,” by bringing “leading undergraduate and graduate students from a global applicant pool to George Mason University for four weeks of intensive academic and experiential training” (

During the academic training component, I learned more about social entrepreneurship and social innovation from 21 amazing professionals, social innovators, nonprofit managers, and fellows from companies such as Ashoka U, Deloitte, Guidestar, etc. I am excited to now have a network of mentors and leaders in the DC area to learn from. Check out my next few blog posts- they are excerpts regarding my takeaways from these speakers!

There were two stages to the experiential training component of SIP: clinical and lean start-up challenge. During the clinical component, I worked as a pro-bono consultant with two other participants for an organization to increase their capacity and operational effectiveness. Our client was the GMU Office of Sustainability. My team and I were tasked with helping them engage the George Mason University and Northern Virginia/DC metro area community in the President’s Park Greenhouse, a new on-campus greenhouse featuring aquaponics and hydroponics growing systems. We worked really hard and created a 24-page marketing plan and strategy for our client! Our client was very happy and impressed with our deliverable, and will implement many of our suggestions– our hard work paid off! Here are several photos from the client presentation:


In the lean-start up phase, I worked with the same team to create a business model canvas, market-test, and pitch a social change-oriented product or service. My team and I designed a company/product and created a business model canvas, and tested minimum viable products through the lean startup method. What did I just say? To quote Eric Ries, a minimum viable product is a “version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.” That’s why it’s called a lean startup… it’s lean! My team and I “got out of the building” to conduct interviews, hang up posters, collect survey results, etc. On the final day of SIP, we pitched the company/product to a panel of judges at Arent Fox LLP. The purpose of this portion of SIP was to get practice in the lean startup process and getting out of the building to test, not necessarily to create the best solution in a month. Here are some photos from the pitch fest:


My goal going into SIP was that I would leave the program with the ability to apply entrepreneurial approaches to social causes in a variety of sectors. Additionally, I hoped to leave with a strong network of other student social entrepreneurs, professionals in the field, and leaders across multiple sectors. The takeaways from this valuable professional development experience could not be gained from typical internships or jobs, and the work I was doing are things my parents did in graduate school for their MBAs. Furthermore, this program allowed me to grow my passion by surrounding myself with individuals from around the country and world who all have their own passions and dreams.

I was nominated for SIP by a past participant from Tulane University, and thus heard about the program through talking with the director of the program following my nomination. The director and the past participant who nominated me also supported me as I worked to pay for the program. The cost of the program was $3950, not including food or travel expenses. I received the wonderful $1000 scholarship from Tulane’s CELT (thanks, CELT!), a $1000 scholarship from SIP, and then crowdfunded $2500! Here is the link to my crowdfunding page: Crowdfunding was a lot of work, but it certainly paid off. It showed me that people believe in me and in my desire to create positive change.

Overall, SIP exceeded my expectations. This program complemented and supplemented what I have learned over the past year in the SISE courses, Changemaker Institute, and at the Ashoka U Exchange. SIP was a challenging program, but with every challenge comes an opportunity for growth! I loved working with 15 other passionate undergraduates and graduate students, learning how to do consulting and marketing work, and testing my assumptions regarding the social venture we worked. I feel more prepared to tackle local and global issues, but I acknowledge and embrace that there is always more I can learn.

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-Samantha Dietz is a sophomore at Tulane University majoring in Sociology and double minoring in Spanish and Social Innovation & Social Entrepreneurship.