Exploring Social Innovation – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Exploring Social Innovation

Like most educators, Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies Craig Talmage had to make some adjustments to his “Social Innovation for the Entrepreneur” course this spring when the coronavirus shut down in-person learning.

Turning a challenge into an opportunity, Talmage decided to have his students analyze the website for ConnectGeneva, an initiative of the city and town of Geneva in partnership with BluePrint Geneva, created to bring people together virtually to share resources during the pandemic. He designed the assignment to be a collaborative effort with the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning where he serves as faculty liaison.

“With the loss of in-person interaction for the course, I knew students would be curious to learn about the innovative ways the Geneva community was adjusting to COVID-19 and related challenges and collaborative opportunities,” says Talmage. The students reviewed content on the ConnectGeneva website as well as the organization’s Facebook and Instagram pages, assessing the effectiveness of each and commenting on possibilities for improvement.

By analyzing the site, students learned about social enterprise — revenue generation that also does social good. “By seeing how local Genevans and enterprises responded to COVID-19 through ConnectGeneva, my students were able to see the resilience of social enterprise firsthand in Geneva,” says Talmage. “ConnectGeneva can be seen as a blueprint for enterprises in local communities in the future. The students learn about blueprint copying when looking to scale social impact in the course.”

“ConnectGeneva is a multifaceted platform that allows members of the Geneva community to interact, gather information and give back to its community,” says William Payne ’21, a student in the class. “The website features six main links where viewers can choose from options ranging from volunteer work in the community to the latest news on the COVID-19 outbreak.”

Payne felt that the site’s best feature was a “tell us what you need” link that directed visitors to a bilingual form allowing them to input requests. Site administrators then help as they’re able by supplying needed items. He suggested that the Instagram page was a resource that could be better utilized, especially by young people who are more inclined to spend their social media time on Instagram rather than Facebook.

“I believe by advertising the page to both Geneva High School and Hobart and William Smith students the page can gain a large sum of followers which will lead to more engagement within the community,” he says.

Jiangnan “Jackey” Shen ’20 felt that the website was doing a great job of providing delivery and food distribution, and suggested that the organization partner with retail stores that might have surplus food for distribution. She also recommended using the resources of Instagram Live, for events such as interviews with health practitioners speaking about best practices during the pandemic. “These sessions will provide Ontario residents with an opportunity to ask more questions and learn how they can help,” she says.

All in all, says Talmage, the exercise was a success, and allowed students to learn from the safety of their home computers. “I was especially pleased with the feedback my students shared with the organizers and I appreciate the way this effort helped supplement underpinnings of course learning objectives.”

In the photo above, Visiting Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies Craig Talmage works with students last spring.