United College is finding new ways to empower future changemakers

A new minor in Social Innovation and Impact is paving the way for countless ventures with untold impact 

By Rebecca Wagner United College

Giving formal academic credit and recognition for building social ventures could be game changing for students and the social innovation landscape, paving the way for many more ideas, initiatives and ventures.  

That’s why United College will launch a new minor in Social Innovation and Impact this fall. On the heels of GreenHouse’s 10th anniversary milestone, the new minor is firmly rooted in the college’s rich tradition of social justice and sustainable impact.   

Through a mix of eight courses, the new minor will formalize what was once provided in an informal, extra-curricular framework, into an academic model that includes courses like Research for Social Impact, Designing for Social Impact and Measuring and Evaluating Social Innovation for Impact. This will offer students the ability to research, define, design, launch and test social innovations for academic credit.    

Recognizing that it’s one thing to learn concepts in a classroom and quite another to apply these learnings in a real-world setting, the new minor intertwines academic study and venture creation. This pedagogical framework will open social innovation up to a broader audience since academic credit will be awarded for nurturing an idea and growing a venture.   

"United College has always been keen to find new ways to contribute to the advancement of the University of Waterloo’s priorities, including its vision for Waterloo at 100 and the Global Futures initiative," says Rick Myers, principal, United College. "Given the University’s emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship, it just makes sense to leverage the expertise at GreenHouse in social innovation to build an academic program in that field."  

A look ahead 

With an initial intake of 20 students, and plans to grow to 50 students, the minor in Social Innovation and Impact aims to create maximum social impact by embracing experiential learning and taking a deep dive into the rich tradition that the University of Waterloo is known for.         

Incoming students will be fully embraced by a community of support and will follow in the footsteps of GreenHouse alumni while forging new paths of their own.  

John Abraham, academic dean of United College, envisions the minor getting students comfortable as with interdisciplinary collaboration and problem-solving as early as possible in their academic careers.  "This requires a reinvention of the traditional approach to training students, with an enhanced focus on problem-finding and a new way of learning to rise and meet today’s increasingly complex environment," Abraham says.

"Future challenges will be at the interface of social, economic and environmental dimensions. To tackle these increasingly complex challenges, we need to graduate students who are skilled at cross-disciplinary problem-solving, who are adept at considering solutions by incorporating insights from numerous sources."  

As a new batch of students prepare to begin or further their unique social impact journeys with the minor’s launch in the fall, upper-year University of Waterloo students encourage future students to make the most of the opportunity.   

"To me, social impact and innovation is much like the planting of trees. If we nurture it today, it grows into a tree that provides shade for tomorrow. Your ideas might start small, but they hold the potential to grow and provide benefits over time," says Wallis Zeng, a student in the Faculty of Arts, a GreenHouse student and co-founder of Q-Connect.   

"I think we’re going to see a lot more social ventures come out of Waterloo," adds Miraal Kabir, a student in the Faculty of Math, GreenHouse alum, and co-founder of Safi. "If I could get a bit of course credit for the work I’m doing with Safi and take a little bit off my academic load, it would be a huge game changer."   

The past 10 years of GreenHouse have underscored the significance of social ventures. In granting formal, academic recognition to social innovation, the minor recognizes and celebrates untapped ideas, paving the way for countless more ventures with untold impact.