Rethinking how universities, nonprofits, and training institutes educate the next generation of social innovators is both a responsibility and a challenge for the social change sector. Younger generations motivated to address social and environmental problems must navigate profound shifts in their own lives, in their communities, and in the domains where they hope to engage. Change is increasingly complex in character, unfolding across multiple sectors and geographies simultaneously, and at an exponentially faster pace. Instead of being an anomaly, challenges emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, may well point to a new normal. At the same time, young people are entering the sector with significantly lower levels of well-being than their predecessors, even as social innovators already in the field are burning out at unprecedented levels. Young people, particularly those under 25, are currently experiencing steep increases in mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.

Taken together, these challenges make it clear that social innovation education must invest just as much time and effort in developing the inner well-being of student change makers—those aiming to engage in building a healthy, just, and caring society—as it does in developing their expertise of systemic challenges in the outer world.

Students’ understanding of their own inner world directly affects their ability to achieve positive change and sustain themselves through social innovation work over the long-term. The change they hope to cultivate in the world is connected to cultivating and using inner skills to effect outer change. A field of social innovation that educates for inner well-being both theoretically and experientially—where more experienced change makers model it and mentor the next generation—would be more resilient, less prone to causing burn-out, better able to navigate social challenges, and ultimately more effective at promoting a healthy and sustainable world.

Read the full article about social innovation in education by Aneel Chima & David Germano at Stanford Social Innovation Review.