JULIE BATTILANA is the founder and academic co-director of the Social Innovation and Change Initiative (SICI) at HKS, and a professor at HKS and HBS. Her work focuses on understanding how actors can diverge from deeply seated norms and pursue change with a social intent. We have a hundred years of research on how to maximize commercial value, Battilana argues; it’s time to focus on understanding how to generate social value and what it takes to be the kind of change-maker that can do that.


Q: Is social innovation just for aspiring social entrepreneurs?

It depends on your definition, but if you are asking whether one must start a new organization to be a social innovator, the answer is certainly no. People can innovate from a variety of organizational platforms to improve the public good. What matters to us at SICI is that the social innovator’s path to social change flows from a thoughtful analysis of the problem they want to tackle and the surrounding ecosystem, their motivations, and their sources of power. We’re somewhat agnostic about which path the social innovator picks as long as it enables that person to bring about the desired social impact.

Q: How does the SICI reflect you and your work?

At SICI, our ultimate objective is to help social innovators navigate the challenges of social change development and implementation. My research aims to advance the knowledge about how to do that. More specifically, I examine three main challenges: the politics of social change; the implementation of multisectoral partnerships to solve persistent social problems; and the simultaneous pursuit of financial and social objectives within organizations over time. These issues build on the work I have been doing for the past 15 years, analyzing the processes of change that diverges from taken-for-granted norms in organizations and society. Most of my recent work has focused on organizations that I call “hybrids,” which pursue a social mission while engaging in commercial activities. I now myself am a hybrid in a sense, working across HKS and HBS. I also celebrate the fact that I have a diverse classroom with students from HKS and HBS, who come from all over the world with work experience across a wide range of sectors. I think that makes the conversation much more enriching.

"We have a hundred years of research on how to maximize commercial value; it’s time to focus on understanding how to generate social value."

Julie Battilana

Q: What was the motivation behind the creation of SICI?

Many students come to HKS because they care about social innovation, and we wanted to help strengthen the community to support these change-makers at the school and beyond. The mission of SICI is to develop research, pedagogical content, and educational programs that help students, social innovators, and organizations around the world navigate the challenges of initiating and implementing social change.

Q: Why create SICI at HKS?

HKS is ideally positioned to help lead the movement around social innovation. It’s ideal because it is at the intersection of the public sector, the not-for-profit sector, and the corporate sector. When it comes to the important and acute social problems we’re facing today, the solutions we’re going to need to develop are probably not going to be single-sector solutions but rather multisector solutions and partnerships. And this multisector exploration and engagement is very much in the DNA of the school.

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