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New Alumni Network Looks to Make an Impact

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Tufts Social Impact Network is a new, alumni-led initiative to create a vibrant community of Tufts graduates working in the social impact field.

Attendees at Tufts Social Impact Network launch event

Over the past year, a team of Jumbo social impact practitioners has been creating a community for alumni who are working to change the world.

Moises Cohen, A11, the co-founder and chair of the group, has been deeply involved in the social entrepreneurship space in Boston since graduating from Tufts. Through his work in various organizations he was looking for a community of like-minded individuals, so he set off to start an alumni group that was focused on people in, or exploring, a career in the social impact field.

That, thought Cohen, was a group he would’ve liked to belong to; and since it didn’t exist, he enlisted a few like-minded Tufts alumni to help him create it.

“Many Tufts alumni are out there trying to change the world,” says Cohen. “Let’s bring them together in this massive task, and the impact that we will all have will be so much greater.”

Building a Network

The idea for what they would call the Tufts Social Impact Network caught on quickly among other young alumni like Leah Staub-DeLong, A08, who joined an early organizational meeting and was immediately drawn to what the group wanted to accomplish.

“As soon as I sat down and started talking to the folks in the room about what everyone was thinking about in terms of what this group could do, I realized it was something I wanted to be a part of,” says Staub-DeLong. “I was so excited about meeting my appetite for a more engaged, involved, nuanced conversation of how we can really create social change, and about the idea of being able to have that conversation with a group of Tufts alumni whom I think very highly of.”

Alongside other former Jumbos, Cohen and Staub-DeLong set out to build the Tufts Social Impact Network with three primary objectives. The first is giving alumni the chance to connect, support each other, and explore opportunities to collaborate.

To that end, last September the group held its launch event: an evening of networking and conversation with leading social entrepreneurs Vanessa Kirsch, J87, and Alan Khazei. More than 150 Tufts alumni of all ages attended the event hosted by Tisch College Dean Alan Solomont, who remarked that the Tufts Social Impact Network was “poised to become an excellent vehicle for meaningful engagement by Tufts alumni.”

“I was just so energized by all the alumni in the room. They are looking for that community, they want to be a part of something greater than themselves, and they want to know that there are other people out there going through similar challenges,” says Cohen of the group’s auspicious initial turnout.

Sharing Knowledge

The Tufts Social Impact Network’s next featured event, held this past January, focused on the organization’s second goal: professional development. Spearheaded by Staub-DeLong, the group hosted an interactive workshop on Design Thinking for Social Impact.

“Design thinking is becoming increasingly recognized as a strategy, not only for how to solve a problem, but how to define a problem in the first place and how to approach the whole problem-solving process,” says Staub-DeLong, who had some experience with design thinking through her work as a Portfolio Investments Team Manager at New Profit, Inc.

“It’s a way of thinking that’s very useful to the social innovation community … and given the increasing recognition of its power to really unlock new ways to solve social problems, it felt like a great event to demonstrate to the Tufts community the kind of value that we can add.”

Seventy Tufts alumni participated in the workshop, led by Edith Elliot, A06, which focused on innovative strategies for improving oral health as an example of the myriad issues design thinking can help to address. Working in small groups, the participants took a user-centric approach as they discussed problems, brainstormed solutions, and constructed creative model prototypes.

The result was a rich learning experience that fulfilled the Tufts Social Impact Network’s objectives and expectations. “It was great to see people who have really different amounts of experience in the workplace interacting and exploring new concepts together,” says Staub-DeLong. “And it felt like people were really exploring design thinking in a really authentic way.”

The workshop also inspired Staub-DeLong to start thinking about similar future events that can leverage existing capacity within the Tufts alumni community,. “I love the idea of continuing to do these skill-building, almost skill-share type events,” she says. “I think there’s a wealth of knowledge and skills within the Tufts network, and as much as we can hold up our own and teach each other what we’ve learned, we can benefit hugely from that.”

Reaching Out

The group’s final goal is to expand its network in two important ways. First: by connecting alumni with current Tufts students interested in joining the social impact field when they graduate. On March 10, the Tufts Social Impact Network is partnering with the Tufts Career Center to host the “Careers in Social Impact” event. Several alumni will come to campus for a series of TED-style talks and conversations with students to share their journeys and offer perspectives on the various, exciting ways to make a difference in the world.

“Whether you’re teaching in a new city through Teach for America; doing corporate social responsibility at a medical devices firm in Boston; working for a local elected official; or trying to grow your startup in Nicaragua; the Tufts alumni community has so many potential allies, friends, and business partners,” says Cohen.

Beyond connecting with current students, the leadership team of the Tufts Social Impact Network also has a growth plan to open up chapters in other major cities in the country in the coming years, and to collaborate closely with other alumni groups to incorporate a social impact element into their programming

For the moment, the Tufts Social Impact Network’s strongest ties are with the Office of Alumni Relations and with Tisch College, which has partnered with the group on each of its events. Several alumni in the group’s leadership team, like Staub-DeLong and Molly Weinstein, A14, are former Tisch Scholars; and the group’s mission is well-aligned with our own: promoting lives of active citizenship long after students leave campus.

“We are super excited about the success that we’ve had,” says Cohen. “We just think there’s a real hunger in the Tufts social impact world to be a part of this bigger community.”