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Social Innovation Fellows

A Case Study in Teamwork

Spring blooms and greenery welcome pedestrians to Syme Residence Hall and the surrounding area. Photo by Becky Kirkland.

It’s always bittersweet to wrap up another year. Inspiration, doubt, excitement, ambiguity … a mix of emotions that add up to a year of growth and community building. The Social Innovation Fellows of 2022-23 have again demonstrated the power of teamwork, and what can be accomplished when you honor and deeply listen to the lived experiences of one another. 

Despite the very different topics and focuses of each group over the course of this year, they were all united by a sense of civic action, a common thread of trying to answer the question “how do we organize better communities?“ 

More than any other achievement of this year was evidence of collaboration. Every voice mattered. Every skill set was utilized. And every student contributed to the collective impact of their team. The team working with the Town of Zebulon undertook a comprehensive approach, conducting over two dozen interviews  to understand the local access to resources and how transparency in local government operations can lead to successful outcomes within a community. The Raleigh City Farm team considered what a community farming movement might look like, and ultimately landed on a solution that incorporated their existing NC State Community. The Common Cause team utilized their community of peers, friends, roommates to devise an outline of how voting information might be better shared amongst advocacy groups in a more sustainable way.

Each week over the entire academic year these teams met without the usual roadmap or class assignment. They worked to understand a global challenge through the lens of cultural, economic and equity difference, and in partnership with community ‘living laboratories’ to design solutions that would move the needle in some way. They created their own script, and despite the many twists and turns of social impact work, each team showed up wholeheartedly at the conclusion of their year more determined than ever to make a difference in the world.

The social impact landscape is filled with headwinds and landmines. Transformational change is the most difficult thing in the world to do and requires an incredible amount of perseverance and agency. Fellows in this year’s cohort demonstrated once again that they have the grit and the determination to become effective change leaders. They also learned to lean on one another, and to lean in to discomfort. 

Along with our mantra to ‘fall in love with the problem,’ is the understanding that if you reach the finish line by leaving everyone else in the dust than you likely haven’t achieved much at all. The 2022-23 Fellows set a fine example of what it means to become a team, and what it means to build a supportive community. Perhaps this was their greatest achievement.