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White House Speaker Urges Students to Forge Ties Between Business and Society :: Video

12/8/2010 --

Business can help change existing mindsets, says Sonal Shah, of the Domestic Policy Council’s Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation.

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. —"Innovation is taking place in all parts of the economy, but we don’t always recognize it," according to Sonal Shah, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council's Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation (SICP).

During a recent visit to Ross, Shah urged students to participate in the policy-making process and use their business training to help solve some of the country’s greatest challenges. In her role at the SICP, she enables social innovation by financing models that can best achieve results -- and then scaling these ideas for wider impact.

"Instead of just funding the same programs year after year, SICP is looking for new models that are working better," she said.

A business mindset is key in creating an environment for social innovation to thrive, Shah said. The field is wrought with risk that necessitates agencies thinking differently, bureaucrats embracing bipartisanship, and government looking beyond the status quo. She advised students to enjoy risk and learn from it.

"Government is hard,” she said. “The nonprofit sector is hard. Changing business mindsets is hard. But don’t let that discourage you from pushing the agenda. Because if enough people keep pushing the agenda, you’ll begin to bend the curve differently."

The federal government isn’t the only outlet for this to happen, Shah said. "Our biggest challenge is getting greater engagement at local levels. The federal level can make policy and fund slightly differently. But the state and local level is where things are happening and where real change must start."

She encouraged students to follow their passions when shaping their careers, even if it’s not always easy.

"Don’t make your career a race to the top,” she said. “Make it a race to improvement – a constant series of experiences you can learn from to help you do things differently. Failure will be part of that. But from failure you learn, and you emerge stronger."

Shah’s presentation was held this fall in conjunction with the University’s National Symposium on the Future of International Service. The event was one in a series of celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s founding of the Peace Corps.

Amy Spooner

For more information, contact:
Amy Spooner, (734) 615-5068,