Social Innovation Series

Social Innovation Series

Business+Impact has hosted and sponsored innovative guest speakers at the Ross School of Business. Through its Social Innovation Series, top impact leaders are brought to campus who cut across boundaries to advance innovative practical solutions to society’s toughest social challenges. Below are examples of these events and activities.


Why do some things catch on and others don’t? How do ideas get adopted and become a part of culture? On March 11, B+I hosted an interactive conversation with Marcus Collins, whose research focuses on how brands propagate and become ingrained within cultures. Read more

On usiness+Impact at Michigan Ross sponsored a conference on business research for social impact at the Ross School of Business. “Igniting Impact: Enhancing Business Practice and Research through Greater Collaboration,” which brought together business people and researchers for maximum impact.

On Feb. 11, Impact Studio faculty director Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks was on hand to engage Adrienne Harris in a lively discussion about her work in governmental and corporate strategy around financial inclusion and fintech availability to the underserved. Ms. Harris is a U-M Ford School Professor and Gates Foundation Senior Research Fellow, and also advises fintech companies, incumbent financial institutions, and large venture capital firms.  Sanchez-Burks and Harris were joined by student Gabrielle Alves, VP of Diversity and Inclusition for the Ross MBA Finance Club.

Read more

During the month of February, we addressed Goal 13: Climate Action.  Several award-winning Ross faculty members (Ekaterina Astashkina, Andrew Hoffman, and Dana Muir) shared their research in an informal setting, and students had the opportunity to brainstorm possible next steps for how the research can be applied to real-world applications that make a positive impact.

Students, faculty and staff joined the U-M Board Fellowship Program for a public forum discussing the Board Chair and Executive Director relationship. Panelists for the forum included:

  • Jamie Buhr, Board Chair, Michigan Theater
  • Russ Collins, Executive Director & CEO, Michigan Theater
  • Lori Bennett, Board Chair, Neutral Zone
  • Samiksha Sneha, Youth Board Chair, Neutral Zone
  • Lori Roddy, Executive Director, Neutral Zone

The +Impact Studio at Michigan Ross in partnership with the U-M Global CO2 Initiative and the Erb Institute offered an innovative workshop in which students will use design thinking methodologies to create business models for carbon capture and utilization technologies. Award-winning U-M faculty shared their research on these technologies in an informal setting, and participating students will have the opportunity to learn and apply the business model canvas to them. 

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During the month of January, we addressed Goal 3: Good Health & Well-Being.  Several award-winning Ross faculty members shared their research in an informal setting, and students had the opportunity to brainstorm possible next steps for how the research can be applied to real-world applications that make a positive impact.

The following faculty presented on key research insights:

  • Ravi Anupindi
  • Sarah Miller
  • John Siberholz

Read more


On Fri, Dec. 13, Business+Impact once again gathered U-M scholars from across disciplinary boundaries to The Choice 2, to ponder big questions about how society should best choose the institutions/methodologies to make choices that will influence and contribute to a society’s or organizations’ ability to flourish. Guest speaker Tom Malone from MIT opened the event with a presentation about “Institutions as Superminds.”

How are Ross faculty members advancing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals through business research? In this interactive design micro-charette themed around Goal 1: Poverty Alleviation, three award-winning Ross faculty members (Bill Lovejoy, Ted London and Aneel Karnani) shared their research in an informal setting and students had the opportunity to brainstorm possible next steps for how the research can be applied to real-world applications that make a positive impact. This highly successful event was the first in a series of similar events which will take place in the new +Impact Studio.

In October, the Center for Social Engaged Design, the Problem Solving Initiative, the School of Information and Business+Impact partnered to present an invitation-only design jam on the subject of payday lending.  Key professionals and alums with a knowledge of the challenges involved collaborated with students and brainstormed concepts and ideas in a high-energy setting with prizes and food.

See a photo album

The University of Michigan’s Detroit Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Project hosted its first Small Business Showcase in tandem with Business+Impact and three other sponsors. More than 30 small businesses throughout the Detroit area who worked with University of Michigan students since the DNEP accelerator was launched in 2016 gathered at the UM Detroit Cetner. 

This October event, run by the Ford School of Public Policy and co-sponsored by Business+Impact, featured the subjects of technology and financial inclusion, digital currency (fiat and non-fiat), AML and financial inclusion. Speakers and attendees included major players from  standards-setting bodies, central banks and other financial regulators, and policymakers, as well as futurists and technologists, and other financial ecosystem stakeholders.

The B+I +Impact Studio and Design+Business Club invited Juan-Carlos Morales to Michigan Ross to speak about design thinking applications to the world of business, in particular business that does good for society. He was interviewed by Michigan Ross’ faculty director of the +Impact Studio, Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks as part of Innovation Week. In the past 20 years Mr. Morales has taken his varied experiences and used  them to help organizations create better experiences for people. His current goals are the same goals he had  when painting graffiti as a teenager. Make things that people will talk about: work that he can be proud of, and work for a place that has purpose greater than just making money.

See photos from the event

April 13, 2019

Organized by the Global Investments Committee, Net Impact and Impact Investing Group in collaboration with the Business+Impact, the Michigan Impact Investing Symposium (MIIS) conference was designed for participants to explore positive investments that provide financial as well as social returns under the guidance of some distinguished members of the impact investing community.

Speakers included:
Shigeki Komatsubara, United Nations Development Program
Karishma Ahuja, ESG and Impact Investing, Goldman Sachs
Tami Kesselman, CEO, Aligned Investing Global
Perry Teicher, Orrick, Herrington and Cliffe
Kelly Ramirez, CEO, Social Enterprise Greenhouse
Julie McBride, CEO, StageSix Capital
Shu Dar Yao, Director of Investments, RSF Social Finance
Roland Pearson, Director, Palladium Group
Diana Won, Program Manager, Pershing Square Foundation
Jerry Davis, Associate Dean of Business + Impact, Ross School of Business

View photos from the event »

March 26, 2019

U-M’s Poverty Solutions partnered with Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, Youth Policy Lab, School of Education, and Ross School of Business’s Business + Impact to present a conference on workforce development.  The event attracted Greg Foran, President and CEO of Walmart US and Julie Gehrki, Vice President of Philanthropy at Walmart as speakers, and panelists like Shamar Herron, Deputy Director of MichiganWorks! Southeast, roderick Johnson, Senior of Counsel, Covington and Burling LLP, and Jeff Donofrio, Executive Director of Workforce Development, City of Detroit.

See photos from the event »

Watch video of “Workforce Development” panel »

Watch video of “Michigan Workforce” panel »

March 22, 2019

A workshop co-sponsored by Effective Altruism at Michigan and Business+Impact gathered for the purpose of discussing social impact in terms of effective altruism, which is a philosophy that tries to discover how we can use our time and careers to do the most good possible.

Read more and download materials »

March 18, 2019

The +Impact Studio at Ross hosted a discussion on leveraging design for impact with social innovator and MBA/MS ‘11 alum Cynthia Koenig. Cynthia is a Product Management Principal at Amazon, focused on designing impactful new digital products, and is the Founder of Wello, an award-winning social venture that designs disruptive and affordable innovations to provide better, more reliable access to safe water. Studio faculty Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks and Jerry Davis engaged Cynthia in a lively discussion about her work in the design and impact space, the design-based skills needed for disruptive change, and the skills companies and organizations are increasingly seeking in the workforce. 

February 12, 2019

There is a significant challenge (and opportunity) for nonprofits to recruit the next generation of nonprofit board leaders. Currently, individuals under the age of 40 make up less than 17% of nonprofit board positions. To reduce this gap, nonprofits will need to employ a number of strategies to recruit and retain younger members. This discussion focused on the value of a younger perspective on nonprofit boards and the efforts in place to adapt to this generational shift. Panelists included Emmanuel Jones, Founder of Mentor2Youth; Diana Kern, Executive Director of Legacy Land Conservancy; and Jeff Henning, Partner at Ernst & Young.

See photos of the event

February 8, 2019

Business+Impact and U-M’s Center for the Study of Complex Systems gathered U-M scholars from across disciplinary boundaries to ponder big questions about how society should best choose the institutions/methodologies to make choices that will influence and contribute to a society’s or organizations’ ability to flourish. These institutions and mechanisms guide, manage, allocate, and harness society’s intellectual, financial, social, and ecological resources to decide on laws, policies, and leaders. 

Visit the conference webpage

This conference led to Michigan Ross being selected by AACSB for “Innovations that Inspire”


October 24-26, 2018

Over a hundred executives and academics came to Ross for this conference sponsored by Business+Impact and the Aspen Institute.  Two public events featured Carl Camden, former CEO of Kelly Services, and James Keane, CEO of Steelcase.  Discussions ranged from employment opportunities to creating cultures that share the wealth. See all of the exciting details about this event on the conference webpage.

July 12-13, 2018

Twenty-five global leaders — including entrepreneurs, investors, policymakers, business leaders, and academics — gathered at Ross to catalyze transformational ideas for the impact economy. In particular, this charette was focused on how to meet the needs of the impact economy by looking at which opportunities should be accelerated and which efforts are misdirected.

Dr. Akhtar Badshah, Microsoft philanthropy division

March 16, 2018

A new generation of funders are looking at new models of social investments. They also have a different approach to measuring social return on investments; they are utilizing technology extensively; and they view the role of public policy and scale with a new lens. In his talk, Dr. Badshah covered these issues and provided innovative approaches to bend the arc of humanity for good.  This event was cosponsored by the School of Social Work, Ford School of Public Policy, and Business+Impact, among others.

Business+Impact was proud to bring the Community of Social Innovation (COSI) scholars group to the University of Michigan May 11-13, 2018.  The group has a mission to foster and advance the sharing of insights around teaching, data, theory and methods in the social innovation space, and to provide focused opportunities to mentor junior scholars in the domain.

Read more about it


Evelina Fredricksson, People Improvement Organization Cambodia

November 15, 2017

The educational system in Cambodia, from kindergarten to university, still suffers from the Pol Pot regime. In the talk, Evelina shared her experience of creating a positive setting for learning and growth. She talked about how the practice of mindful engagement and the strengths of gratitude, teamwork and creativity can pave the way forward.  

Watch the entire presentation on Youtube.

Laxmi Parthasarathy: Ashoka

October 26, 2017

Laxmi Parthasarathy, Director of Global Media Partnerships at Ashoka, discussed her research on the intersection of social entrepreneurship and media innovation in building more informed and civically engaged communities. During the summer of 2017, she leveraged a Ross intern.

Watch a Youtube with Laxmi interview on the subject

Chase Cantrell: Matrix Human Services, Building Community Value
Joe Upton: Neutral Zone
Alan Burg: Kiwanis Club of Ann Arbor
Karen Peterson: Food Gatherers

February 7, 2017

Our Board Fellows program brought in a panel discussion with southeast Michigan nonprofit leaders focused on innovative strategies for board engagement. Attendees will learn about the unique and impactful strategies used by these organizations to engage and retain board members.


Paul Rogat Loeb, author of Soul of a Citizen  and The Impossible Will Take a Little While

November 1, 2016

Acclaimed author of several books about activism and social change, Mr. Loeb offered a critical look at pressing social issues such as poverty, criminal justice, environmentalism, and citizen activism. Just in time for elections, this enlightening discussion raised questions about the ways business and politics can be used as tools to achieve positive social change.

Tim Richey – CEO, Detroit PAL
Tonya Allen – President & CEO, Skillman Foundation
Thom Linn – Chairman, Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy
Rico Razo – District 6 Manager, City of Detroit

February 9, 2016

In 2016, students tackled strategic and operational questions to help launch Detroit PAL’s Kids At the Corner Campaign in partnership with the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy, which involves the redevelopment of the historic field. The 2016 Social Impact Challenge judges presented Leadership Lessons from Detroit just before the winners were announced. Co-sponsoring U-M schools and colleges included the Ross School of Business, School of Public Health, School of Social Work, School of Information, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, School of Natural Resources and Environment, School of Education, Stamps School of Art and Design, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, Michigan Law, the Office of the Provost, and Michigan Athletics.

View photos from the event

See the finals program

Scott Sherman, U-M alum and Founder & Executive Director at Transformative Action Institute

 March 31 – April 1, 2016

Scott Sherman presented over a two-day period to regional nonprofits along with students and faculty.  The discussion covered key principles from his book, Transformative Action – The Science of Making the World a Better Place.  In addition to learning from thoughts and anecdotes, participants were able to put theory into practice with each other.

Brandon Stanton, creator of “Humans of New York”

 March 24, 2016

Brandon Stanton, renowned photojournalist and creator of the book and blog “Humans of New York,” delivered the annual Change Our World Lecture to a sold-out Power Center for the Performing Arts. During the lecture, Stanton recounted the life events that led him to create his largest blog and photojournalist compilation, “Humans of New York.”  Business Impact co-sponsored the lecture with the Center for Campus Involvement and other programs.

Mike Muse, U-M alum and founder of My Brother’s Keeper

February 5, 2016

Michigan Ross worked in tandem with Innovate Blue and the U-M Alumni Association to co-sponsor Mike Muse.  He has created a career that crosses entrepreneurship, entertainment, and politics and has worked as a millennial entrepreneur champion.  Muse’s keynote was followed by a panel discussion showcasing entrepreneurial thinking and a student pitch contest for new start-ups.


Rishi Moudgil, Founding Director, Center for Social Impact

November 11, 2015

The Center for Social Impact presented how it evaluates social enterprises, determines social impact, and identifies opportunities to engage further on campus. Ninety alumni gathered at U-M’s Detroit Center to listen and also engage with a panel of U-M alumni who are working as new venture creators, nonprofit founders, and impact investors in southeast Michigan and Detroit.

Photo album


Jerry Davis, Wilbur K. Pierpont Collegiate Professor of Management Professor of Management and Organizations

May 15 – 17, 2015

The Community of Social Innovation (COSI) scholars group convened in an interactive session aimed at advancing research efforts within social innovation. COSI’s mission is to foster and advance the sharing of insights around teaching, data, theory and methods in the social innovation space, and to provide focused opportunities to mentor junior scholars in the domain.

Photo album

Dave Egner, Executive Director of the New Economy Initiative (NEI)

April 22, 2015

The launch celebration of the Center for Social Impact at the Ross School of Business began with refreshments and networking, followed by a keynote address from David Egner.  Egner’s remarks outlined NEI’s $130 million foray into social innovation and parallel this to the pressing need for cross-sector conveners such as Business Impact, which works extensively in Detroit.

Watch a video on the experience

Photo Album

Kimberly Richardson, U-M Alum and Senior Counsel for Dupont

March 25, 2015

Kimberly Richardson discussed Nonprofit Board Dynamics during this interactive presentation. She offered tips and strategies for young professionals serving as board members, and shared her own experiences and insights from her board service, leadership, and career journey.

David Williams, Senior Advisor, City of Detroit Mayor’s Office, Jobs & Economy Team
Eleanore Eveleth,  Interim Executive Director, Vanguard CDC
Geraldine Gardner, Director Urban and Regional Policy, German Marshall Fund of the U.S.
Dr. Harley Etienne, Assistant Professor, Taubman College of Architecture & Urban Planning

February 18, 2015

2/18/15 Social Impact Challenge final presentations and winnerThe 2015-16 top teams presented their proposed solutions for creative redevelopment of the Fisher Plant, and dialogued with judges and Detroit experts and leaders from the city government, community organizations and civic groups, and the investment community. Expert panelists included David Williams, Eleanore Eveleth, Geraldine Gardner, and Dr. Harley Etienne. Co-sponsoring U-M schools and colleges included the Ross School of Business, Taubman College of Architecture & Urban Planning, School of Natural Resources & Environment, School of Social Work, Stamps School of Art & Design, and Ford School of Public Policy.

View photos from the event

Shelley Metzenbaum, President of Volcker Alliance

February 16, 2015

In this event, co-sponsored by the Ford School of Public Policy, Shelley Metzenbaum, former Associate Director for Performance and Personnel Management at the White House Office of Management and Budget, shared her insights on how one person can make a difference in government using the tools of outcomes-focused goals and measurement to illuminate, motivate, and communicate.



Aaron Hurst, CEO of Imperative

October 10, 2014

During the 2014 Social Innovation Summit, leaders from across sectors revealed how they have found purpose through their careers and applied themselves to deliver impact in the community. Attendees explored their own purpose journey and engaged with social entrepreneurs and thought leaders to explore social challenges and innovations. Keynote speaker Aaron Hurst, a renowned entrepreneur and social innovator, shared insights from his book, The Purpose Economy, during the keynote address.

Watch the Keynote Video

Veronika Scott, Founder & CEO, The Empowerment Plan

June 20, 2014

Co-sponsored by Michigan Corps and Business Impact, this showcase featured leading impact investors across the venture capital, philanthropic and crowdfunding spaces, alongside the state’s top social entrepreneurs. Prize winners from this year’s Michigan Corps Social Entrepreneurship Challenge presented their innovative solutions to our state’s toughest challenges, and industry leaders like Veronika Scott provided feedback and insights.

Photo Album

Ken Cockrel, Jr., Executive Director of Detroit Future City Implementation Office and former Detroit Mayor and City Council President
February 18, 2014

Ken Cockrel, Jr., spent the evening with our teams from the 2014 Social Impact Challenge. He spoke about the new Detroit Future City framework that represents the shared realities, aspirations, and strategies of hundreds of thousands of Detroiters to define a new future for their city.

Watch a video on the experience



Matt Flannery,  Co-founder of Kiva and Co-Founder of Puddle
October 11, 2013

A Conversation with Matt Flannery,  Co-founder of Kiva and Co-Founder of Puddle. Matt addressed the founding of his company, microfinance trends, his social impact career path, and other topics in social funding. Throughout the day-long summit, leaders from across sectors and invested university and community members together defined, explored and delivered thoughts and applications around social funding methods.

Dr. Mark Funkhouser, Director of Governing Institute
Dayne Walling, Mayor of Flint
April 1, 2013

Dr. Mark Funkhouser and Mayor Dayne Walling joined students for a private lunch and an exclusive preview conversation to discuss his book, Honest, Competent Government: The Promise of Performance Auditing. This book lays out the challenges that government performance auditors face in the real world and puts forward recommendations to move the field forward. Following lunch, Dr. Funkhouser presented a lecture discussing performance management and partnering with citizens to produce results. He addressed some of the aspects of this co-production and how it is working across America, including community economic development, place making and the tools and techniques of deliberative democracy. This event was co-sponsored by The Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP).

Ram Cnaan, Program Director of the Program for Religion and Social Policy Research
February 25, 2013

Who Cares for the Needy? Dr. Cnaan is a world-renowned expert on faith-based social services from the University of Pennsylvania. He spoke about the role of organized religion in the post-welfare society. He discussed the often “invisible” but tremendously significant social impact of congregations across America. Lunch was served. This event was co-sponsored by the Office of the Vice President for Research.

Scott Morgan, Founder & CEO of Education Pioneers
Dan Varner, CEO of Excellent Schools Detroit
Kendra Hearn, U-M professor at the School of Education
Lesley Redwine, CEO of New Urban Learning and Superintendent of University YES Academy
February 21, 2013

2/21/13 Social Impact Challenge finals followed by the Education Leaders Forum and awards ceremony

Community and academic leaders gathered at the Education Leaders Forum to discuss, “How do we attract top education leaders and managers to Detroit?” Scott Morgan and Dan Varner were joined by Kendra Hearn and Lesley Redwine. Guests from across campus and the community joined the conversation and reception.

Following the reception, the final four teams participating in the 2013 Social Impact Challenge presented their final recommendations to a panel of judges. The panel included: Scott Morgan, Dan Varner, Dr. Susan Dynarski, U-M professor at the Schools of Education, Public Policy, & Economics, and Dr. Victoria Johnson, U-M professor of Organization Studies.

Watch a video on the experience


Dr. Paul C. Light, Paulette Goddard Professor of Public Service at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service and founding director of the Global Center for Public Service and Social Impact
February 8, 2013

Dr. Light held numerous positions prior to joining NYU, including director of the Public Policy Program at the Pew Charitable Trusts and serving as a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. He is the author of 25 books, including works on social entrepreneurship, the nonprofit sector, and federal government reform. This event was a conversation with Dr. Light about social impact and his recent book: “Driving Social Change: How to Solve the World’s Toughest Problems.”