Dwight Hall’s Social Innovation Lab has in its first year helped five different student projects in social justice or public service get off the ground.
The lab serves to encourage long-term project planning and offers physical workspace, grants and workshops to its members. After a selective admissions process last spring, the chosen ventures were awarded managerial support, funding and corporate resources to incubate their projects.
One of the chosen entrepreneurial ventures, Building Bridges, an education initiative that works with students in China, met with Dwight Hall Social Innovation Lab staff last spring to develop their organization model and create partnerships on campus. In consultation with Dwight Hall and Chinese health care professionals, co-presidents Grace Jin ’20 and Barkley Dai ’20 developed a science curriculum to teach at a school in Hongtong, Shanxi. Last summer, Jin, Dai and nine Yale students joined 40 Chinese university students to teach mental health, sexual education and environmental science to over 500 students in rural China.
Victor Wang ’18, a former staff reporter for the News, said the Social Innovation Lab gave his company, Penta, the “tools to consider and measure our social impact.”
Founded by Wang and Brown University senior Trang Duong, Penta offers high-quality and low-cost prosthetic equipment to people with disabilities in Vietnam. Though current U.S. legislation prohibits individuals from donating their used prosthetic devices, Penta repurposes the surplus of used prosthetics in America to fill the need in Vietnam.
Last summer, Penta worked with local hospitals to fit around a hundred amputees with used prosthetic devices. The nonprofit also hired full-time staff in Vietnam to continue to work with local hospitals and local nongovernmental organizations as its founders return to their Ivy League campuses.
“Over the past several months, we have focused on scaling our operations on the supply and demand side,” Wang said. The venture recently partnered with the New England division of the largest prosthetic and orthopedic clinic chain in the U.S. to collect used devices.
Last March, Penta won the Yale College Dean’s Challenge on Social Innovation, a partnership between the Dean’s Office and the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute that awards an undergraduate project that addresses a global challenge. Penta also received a grant from the Clinton Global Foundation in 2016.
Among the three other Social Innovation Lab projects was the Teaching Peace Initiative, an international student-run nonprofit that trains high school students to teach peacemaking curricula in local elementary and middle schools. Another project seeks to establish a community recreation and empowerment center in the Bronx, and one proposed a multilingual resource map of the Greater New Haven area for refugees, asylum seekers and formerly incarcerated people.
A year after its launch, Dwight Hall hired Director of Innovation Onyeka Obiocha to lead the Social Innovation Lab and connect with centers of social entrepreneurship at Yale and beyond. Before starting at Yale, Obiocha already had experience in the field of social entrepreneurship — he owned a coffee shop that invested 100 percent of its profits back into the communities through which it sourced its coffee.
“If you ask Dwight Hall ten years ago, if they would consider adding a full-time position simply to work on social innovation, they would have said no way — that’s an outlandish idea,” said Dwight Hall Co-coordinator Anthony D’Ambrosio ’18. “[The new position] represents a very intentional effort to pull resource into making Dwight hall a more social entrepreneurial space.”
As the lab enters its second year, Obiocha hopes to transition from a “cohort model” to incubation on a case-by-case basis. In an effort to avoid “artificial limitations,” the lab will offer a rolling application process and advertise to all Yale staff, faculty, and students rather than undergraduates alone.
Dwight Hall launched the Social Innovation Lab in fall 2016.
Hailey Fuchs | email@example.com