Social Innovation

The Social Innovation and 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.



Cheng Fellowship applications for current HKS students, current HBS students, and rising juniors/seniors at Harvard College are now open. Applications for HKS Mid Career students will open in Summer 2019. The link to apply and application details are available below. The deadline to submit applications is April 1, 2019. CLICK HERE TO APPLY

Program Structure

The Cheng Fellowship engages HKS, HBS, and Harvard College students who are looking to be in action, dedicated, and focused in creating social change around a specific problem. All applicants must be available to attend weekly evening co-curricular sessions (one night/week) on HKS’ campus for the duration of the 2018-19 academic year and in good academic standing for the duration of their participation.

Applicant Information

In 2019, the Social Innovation and Change Initiative will invite up to 15 exceptional students from Harvard Business School, Harvard Kennedy School, and Harvard College 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.

Applicants must attend all co-curricular sessions (one night/week) on the Harvard Kennedy School’s campus for the duration of the 2019 – 20 academic year. Domestic and international students are welcome to apply.

Selection Criteria

Evaluation Criteria

Applicants will be evaluated on the following:

  • Demonstrates commitment to a specific social issue and the people/communities adversely affected by the issue.
  • Articulates their role as the agent of change and why they would be effective in leading this effort.
  • Proposes feasible pathway to address the identified social problem, which is new and creative given the implementing context.
  • Establishes a connection between their social innovation project and their post-graduation/career goals.
  • Approaches innovation with a learning mindset.
  • Demonstrates leadership potential and exhibits Fellow Characteristics.

Fellow Characteristics

Social change and transformation is hard work. Selected Fellows in previous cohorts have demonstrated:

  • Strong commitment to, and experience in, addressing chosen problem area.
  • Clear drive and motivation to contribute to social change.
  • A specific idea of how they may contribute to advancing this change.
  • An action-orientation and hunger to learn from failure.
  • Compelling reasoning for pursuing social innovation within the context of a public policy school.
  • Humility, flexibility, and openness to questioning one’s own assumptions.
  • Active partnership and participation in building a highly connected and supportive community within the Fellowship.
  • A commitment to complete all program requirements, including attendance at scheduled co-curricular sessions one evening per week and completion of the Social Change Plan.
  • Intellectual curiosity and accomplishment, and the ability to persuasively communicate ideas, insights, and plans.
  • Leadership capacity and experience.

Program Information

The Cheng Fellowship has four key elements: co-curricular sessions, coaching and mentoring, self-directed immersion learning, and the Social Change Plan. Over the course of the Fellowship, students work to 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 as social innovators in movements, organizations, businesses, and/or government. Fellows will also become part of a dedicated cohort and larger community of changemakers invested in advancing their work and the work of their peers to achieve positive social impact.

The program is rigorous and time-intensive, intended for students with a steadfast commitment to a defined social or public problem and dedication to advancing concrete progress against this problem while in school and post-graduation.

In addition to the world-class curricular studies offered at Harvard, Cheng Fellows will:

  • Participate in weekly co-curricular sessions focused on developing core competencies and skills for social problem-solving;
  • Engage with and learn from leading faculty, social innovators, sector experts, major foundations, and others;
  • Join in a cohort of like-minded peers dedicated to and working toward achieving social change;
  • Receive mentorship and guidance from faculty and staff affiliated with the Fellowship, in addition to an extensive network of coaches and mentors;
  • Undertake a self-directed project;
  • Produce a comprehensive Social Change Plan that serves as a reflection of your learning and a springboard for continued action post-graduation; and
  • Be eligible for up to $30,000 in funding in support of project-related inquiry, development, ideation, and advancement upon successful completion of the program.

This program challenges Fellows to grapple with complexity; engage directly and thoughtfully with stakeholders and constituents; dissect the systems and politics that shape the problem space; and continually assess whether the actions they are taking will bring about desired social change.

The Award

Cheng Fellows are eligible for up to a total of $30,000 in support of project-related inquiry, development, ideation, and advancement. A limited sum from this pool is accessible to Fellows while they are in school to enable real-world learning and practice of the skills and competencies introduced through the Fellowship. Significant funding is held pending successful program completion and is intended to support project-related work post-graduation. If accepted as a partnership, funding is allocated on a project basis (not per individual Fellow) and dependent on successful completion of the program by the whole team.

Fellowship funding can be used towards:

  • understanding the problem;
  • identifying solutions;
  • testing and implementing a specific solution; and
  • filling in professional skills gaps.

Please note that all funding awarded through the New World Social Enterprise Fellows Program is intended to support Cheng Fellow projects and is not applicable to tuition, school fees, etc.

The New World Social Innovation Fellows Program is supported by New World Development Company, a Hong Kong-listed conglomerate led by Adrian Cheng, a 2002 graduate of Harvard College.

Adrian Cheng

Adrian Cheng is the Executive Vice-chairman and General Manager of New World Development Company Limited. He is the chairman of New World Group Charity Foundation Limited and a director of certain subsidiaries of the Group. Cheng worked in a major international bank prior to joining New World Development Company Limited in September 2006 and has substantial experience in corporate finance. He holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree (cum laude) from Harvard University with a focus on East Asia studies, and was conferred the Honorary Doctorate of Humanities by the Savannah College of Art and Design.  Cheng founded New World Springboard Community Program which encourages young people to give back to society and also founded K11 Art Mall and K11 Arts Foundation which nurtures young artists, offers international scholarships, and hosts exhibitions around the world. He is the vice-chairman of the Youth Federation of the Central State-owned Enterprises, the vice-chairman of All-China Youth Federation, a member of the Tianjin Municipal Committee of The Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, and a member of Board of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority.

What are the eligibility requirements?

HKS: Applicants for the 2018 Cheng Fellow cohort must be Master’s candidates graduating from an HKS degree program in Spring 2019, including the one-year Mid-Career program. This is a one-year Fellowship experience.

Harvard College: Applicants for the 2018 Cheng Fellow cohort must be current sophomores/rising juniors at the College (anticipated graduation Spring 2020). College Fellows participate in a two-year Fellowship experience, providing students with an extended runway for post-graduate planning, individualized support, and deepened community. Year 1 is spent engaging in the weekly co-curricular programming together with HKS Fellows, while Year 2 is focused on developing and executing on your individual game plan. College Fellows must plan to participate in a summer experience related to their Fellowship work during Summer 2019, between Year 1 and Year 2.

All applicants must be available to attend weekly evening co-curricular sessions (one night/week) on HKS’ campus for the duration of the 2018-19 academic year, be enrolled students, and in good academic standing for the duration of their participation.

Who should apply?

We have found that successful applicants do not always think themselves as “social innovators” nor do they necessarily have experience with “entrepreneurship.” We encourage applications from civil servants, community organizers, “intrapreneurs” within large organizations, social entrepreneurs, activists, front line staff and any change-makers with dedicated passion and clear drive to solve defined social problems.

It is crucial for candidates to honestly consider (and ultimately to demonstrate in their application) their level of readiness and motivation to be focused on advancing their independent social innovation work while also pursuing an academic degree. Applicants must have the commitment to use a significant part of their time at Harvard to develop, refine, and advance a specific project that aims to transform the status quo for the primary purpose of positive social impact. Successful applicants will demonstrate that they are highly focused and self-motivated, able to integrate constructive feedback, willing to grapple with complexity, and have an unwavering dedication to a specific social cause, which they are committed to pursuing after graduation and beyond.

Applicants will be evaluated on the following:

  • Provides evidence of real commitment to a specific social issue and the people adversely affected by the current state.
  • Demonstrates a clear connection between the Fellowship and long- and short-term post-graduation goals.
  • Approaches innovation with a learning mindset.
  • Demonstrates leadership potential and exhibits Fellow characteristics.

Fellows will be asked to bring all resources at their disposal to the table for this program — their time, brainpower, attention, energy, relationships, public image, passion, and more. This demand would be inappropriate for students who are not yet certain of their commitment.

This program is not for students who are interested in innovation for its own sake, nor for those who would accept a profitable outcome from their efforts without true social impact. Similarly, it is not for students who believe they would feel constrained by dedicating themselves to a specific problem for the duration of the program, and beyond, in order to contribute to solving it.

Is this an incubator or accelerator for social enterprises?

The program is a scaffolded, co-curricular experience for aspiring change agents looking to learn and be in action in tackling a problem about which they are passionate and dedicated. Social innovation can be pursued through a number of vehicles and pathways – including the launch and scaling of, and intrapreneurship within, social movements, organizations, businesses, and/or governments. Our position is that these strategic decisions should be made based on and informed by the defined problem and your personal fit as a change agent. This program is not specifically designed to provide technical skills for students looking to launch a venture without deep exploration and analysis of the problem, their own identity and sources of power, and the pathways available to them.

Is there a financial aid component?

Cheng Fellows are eligible for up to a total of $30,000 at successful completion of the Fellowship in support of project-related inquiry, development, ideation, and advancement. A limited amount of funding may be available to enable real-time experiential learning. All funding awarded through the New World Social Enterprise Fellows Program is intended to support Cheng Fellow projects and innovation work, and is not applicable to tuition, school fees, etc. This funding is considered taxable income.

How do I apply?

The 2018 application for current HKS and Harvard College students has closed. The 2018 Cheng Fellowship application is now open for current HKS Mid-Career students. Access the application here. The deadline to apply is Sunday, July 29, 2018, 11:59PM ET.

More questions?

We’d love to hear from you! Contact Ally Philip, Program Coordinator, at