Asha Prihar

Hoping to foster connections between the Yale Divinity School and the broader Yale community, a Divinity School student has founded “Divinnovation” — a group that aims to support innovative faith-based projects and social impact work.

In an effort to provide students with tools to perform efficient social impact work, Arthur Thomas DIV ’19 founded the group with the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale. Thomas, the group’s director, noted that the group’s focus on social impact and innovation is “for future leaders emerging from YDS.”

The organization’s first event — which was held on Tuesday afternoon in the Divinity School common room — was a conversation with 2017 Maurice R. Greenberg World Fellow Baljeet Sandhu, a British human rights lawyer, that drew around 40 attendees.

“It made sense — marrying the faith-based, social justice heart posture with business skills and entrepreneurial acumen to turn something from an idea to a movement, from innovation to intervention,” Thomas said.

According to Thomas, he came up with the idea for Divinnovation while serving on the student advisory board of Tsai CITY last year, when the center was looking to establish ties across the University. Thomas said that when he enrolled at the Divinity School, he began to recognize the overlap between theology and his background in finance and real estate.

He said that he proposed Divinnovation as a mediator between the Divinity School and Tsai CITY, so that students looking for concrete ways to instigate social change and to apply their theological knowledge to business and other fields could draw on Tsai CITY’s resources.

The inaugural event that featured Sandhu in conversation with Divinity School professor Willie Jennings was the first in the “Faith-Based Social Innovation & Civic Engagement Series,” offered in partnership with the Divinity School’s Office of Student Affairs. The speaker series is a Divinnovation initiative that will introduce students to social innovators who have successfully used their platforms for social good.

Thomas stressed that the goal of the series is not only to convey guests’ narratives about their work, but to give attendees strategies that they can implement in their own pursuits.

“We’re looking to influencers who are already in the world today and bringing them in to speak about their experiences [to] extract the competencies that help their projects be successful,” he said.

At Tuesday’s event, Sandhu discussed her background growing up in Nottingham, an underprivileged community in Great Britain, as well as her time working with disadvantaged children and her strategies for effecting change as founding director of the Migrant & Refugee Children’s Legal Unit, which represents refugees and other displaced youth in court.

Sandhu, now a Tsai CITY Innovator in Residence, stressed the importance of interdisciplinary dialogue and “lived experience” for tackling large social problems. As a human rights lawyer, she said that she tried to establish a conversation between professionals to better understand potentially traumatized youth.

“Human wisdom comes from firsthand, direct experience of a social issue or injustice,” Sandhu said. “That gives you wisdom to pioneer and lead change.”

Beyond co-hosting the speaker series, Thomas said that the group wants to establish practical workshops, which will teach students skills required for social ventures, such as how to fill out a Form 990 — a tax form for tax-exempt organizations — or how to choose the proper organizational structure.

He also said that Divinnovation would like to work with professors from the University’s other schools to draw on the knowledge and expertise that they can offer.

“I’m hoping that this will start to open the door for interdepartmental dialogue and conversations for social change,” Thomas said. “Yale has too many resources to not leverage each other’s talents.”

Since Yale has a reputation for producing world leaders, it makes sense for future leaders to learn from and work with one another at the University, Thomas noted.

Divinnovation Communications Coordinator Mecca Griffith DIV ’20 said that she would like the group’s programming to become a resource for the broader Yale community. She said she hopes that both graduate and undergraduate students will “take advantage of different guests who are applying ethical principles to real-world problems.”

“I think that the reason why any of us here at Yale invest in our education is because we want to make some sort of impact,” Griffith said. “And I think the best value out of this education is definitely to see it at work.”

Tsai CITY launched in September 2017.

Asha Prihar | asha.prihar@yale.edu

Hoping to foster connections between the Yale Divinity School and the broader Yale community, a Divinity School student has founded “Divinnovation” — a group that aims to support innovative faith-based projects and social impact work.

In an effort to provide students with tools to perform efficient social impact work, Arthur Thomas DIV ’19 founded the group with the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale. Thomas, the group’s director, noted that the group’s focus on social impact and innovation is “for future leaders emerging from YDS.”

Correction, Dec. 2: A previous version of this article stated that several students founded the student group. In fact, Arthur Thomas DIV ’19 was the sole founder of the group, which he founded with support from administrators, faculty and other students at YDS.