Social Innovation + Change Initiative

The Social Innovation + Change Initiative hosts the New World Social Innovation Fellowship: a rigorous co-curricular program for path makers, change makers, and pioneers committed to addressing pressing social problems in new and creative ways. The Fellowship selects and supports students – known as Cheng Fellows – with a demonstrated commitment to advancing progress on a social challenge through a project of their design. Students may choose to lead change through innovation in business, an organization, social movement, or within an existing organization, such as government. The co-curricular experience of the Fellowship bridges research, theory, and social change frameworks with experiential insights and expertise to guide students in effectively leveraging themselves as leaders and innovators for positive social impact.

Cheng Fellows use their time at Harvard to learn and simultaneously advance progress against a defined problem about which they have a dedicated passion and future commitment. The program is designed as a scaffolded, intensive co-curricular Fellowship for students to explore social problem-solving within the context of a policy school and with an eye toward action while earning their degree. Fellowship work is guided by a curated sequence of weekly co-curricular sessions, skills-based workshops, practitioner visits, individualized coaching and mentorship, hands-on Studio time, and experiential learning opportunities. Fellows form a cohort-based community and actively contribute to building a place of productive support and encouragement, recognizing that no single individual changes the world alone. Participants embrace a learning orientation in their work, actively incorporating and building on learnings from Fellowship offerings to guide their independent change efforts.

The program provides up to $30,000 to Fellows who successfully complete the program for project-related inquiry, development, ideation, and advancement.

For more information about the Fellowship, please visit the Social Innovation and Change Initiative website.

Julie Battilana

Julie Battilana

Alan L. Gleitsman Professor of Social Innovation
Joseph C. Wilson Professor of Business Administration, HBS
Director, Social Innovation + Change Initiative

Current courses and recent work:

Le Manifeste Travail
Stanford Social Innovation Review —“Should You Agitate, Innovate, or Orchestrate"?
Problem, person, and pathway: A framework for social innovators



The New World Social Innovation Fellows Program supports selected students — Cheng Fellows — in taking action to advance progress against a pressing social problem through social innovation. We have found that successful applicants do not always think of themselves as “social innovators”. We encourage applications from civil servants, intrapreneurs within large organizations, social entrepreneurs, activists, and changemakers with dedicated passion and clear drive to solve a defined social problem.

It is crucial for candidates to honestly consider their readiness and motivation to advance an independent social innovation effort while also pursuing an academic degree. Through a rigorous Fellowship experience, Fellows refine their understanding of a specific social problem, reflect on their personal identities and sources of power, and take action in finding their unique pathway forward, making concrete plans to continue their work post-graduation.

Application for the AY2020-2021 New World Social Innovation Fellowship has closed. The next application cycle will open in Spring 2021. If you are interested in learning more about more opportunities to support your social change effort, please sign up for SICI’s newsletters.

Application Criteria

Applications will be evaluated on the following criteria:

  • Understanding of Problem: Applicant defines a specific social problem, its root causes, and why it is important using both quantitative and qualitative measures.

  • Purpose: Applicant demonstrates passion for this social problem and the people impacted, and establishes a connection between their social innovation project and their post-graduation/career goals.

  • Positioning: Applicant articulates their role as the agent of change and why they would be effective in leading this effort.

  • Potential: Applicant proposes a feasible pathway to address the identified social problem, which is new and creative given the implementing context.

  • Innovation: Applicant demonstrates understanding of current efforts that have attempted or are currently attempting to address this social problem and articulates how their effort is different.

  • Cohort Expectations: Applicant demonstrates promise in their ability to approach innovation with a learning mindset, and build a highly connected and supportive community within the Fellowship.

The New World Social Innovation Fellowship currently accepts applications from students in the following schools:

  • HKS: Applicants from HKS must graduate in Spring 2021, including the one-year Mid-Career program.

  • HBS: Applicants from HBS must graduate in Spring 2021.

  • HGSE: Applicants from HGSE must graduate in Spring 2021 or Spring 2022 (EdLD).

  • HSPH: Applicants from HSPH must graduate in Spring 2021 or Spring 2022 (DrPH).

  • Harvard College: Applicants from Harvard College must graduate in Spring 2021 or 2022.

Pairs are eligible to apply, however all applicants must meet the eligibility requirements outlined above. Each person must submit an application and will be assessed on an individual basis.


Program Structure

Each year, the Social Innovation and Change Initiative invites up to 15 exceptional students to join the New World Social Innovation Fellowship. Selected for their commitment and potential to create lasting social change, students attend weekly co-curricular sessions to learn social impact frameworks, apply these lessons to their projects, and advance their work, as well as that of others in the cohort.

Selected students must attend all co-curricular sessions (one night/week) at Harvard Kennedy School’s campus for the duration of the academic year and be in good academic standing for the duration of their participation in the program. Domestic and international students are welcome to apply.