Social Innovation

Social innovation is not about lucky epiphanies. It’s not about being in the right place at the right time. No, it’s about confronting a challenge head-on. It’s about rolling up your sleeves and exploring the raw data, mapping the problem, understanding the causes and effects. It’s about having the broad knowledge base to employ the right mix of methods and perspectives to see the opportunities and imagine potential solutions others haven’t. It’s about being unafraid to try and try and try until you find the solution that works in a meaningful way. But most of all, social innovation is about being driven by a deep desire to help improve lives—and then channeling that desire into a process that delivers change.

At NYU Wagner, we believe real social impact is achieved with a combination of entrepreneurship, innovation, and investment. Through our academics, especially our social innovation specialization, we provide our students with a vast toolkit of techniques, and teach them how to determine which tools are the right ones for the issue at hand. That means that no matter what challenge our students face, they will be prepared to drive the process from ideation through realization—all the while gaining the public policy support needed to sustain, scale, and measure impact. And this is exactly what it takes to be a social innovator.

From the research coming out of our Social Innovation & Investment Initiative to the impact our students and alumni are making in the field, our community of change makers is innovating policy, products, services, delivery systems, enterprises, and investments—anything necessary to improve lives and solve major domestic and global challenges. As a graduate of our program, you’ll have the “multi-lingual” business and policy acumen to be the kind of cross-sectoral collaborator the world needs to move the needle on key social problems. And that will be true whether you find yourself working as a policy leader, social entrepreneur, impact investor, or manager in any sector.

Alumni in Action: Kristin Misner (MPA-PNP)

Innovating Public Sector Financing 

Through her role in city government, alumna Kristin Misner created an innovative Social Impact Bond that uses private investments for government projects.

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Social Innovation & Investment Initiative

As the world’s population continues to grow, so does the need for finding innovative entrepreneurial and financial solutions to address our most pressing social challenges. NYU Wagner’s Social Innovation & Investment Initiative provides the tools, research, training, and thought leadership to address these issues across the public, nonprofit, and private sectors. 

The Social Innovation & Investment Initiative serves as the central hub and incubator in the field of social finance, bringing together policymakers, philanthropists, finance professionals, nonprofits, and foundations to collaboratively strengthen the growing field. The Initiative is working on:

  • Designing social financial instruments and structures to achieve social impact, identify catalytic financing and risk mitigating structures, and innovate financing models;
  • Research, development, and training of new models of financial collaboration across sectors;
  • Monitoring and evaluating financial and social returns generated by social enterprises to improve existing financial instruments and broaden opportunities for private sector financing of government initiatives;
  • Documenting best practices and developing case studies in venture philanthropy, impact investing, social impact bonds, and social enterprise financing; and
  • Developing policies and convening partners across sectors to exchange ideas, information, and practices necessary to develop successes and learn from failures.

With deep faculty knowledge, a core finance curriculum, and a prime location in the heart of New York City—the financial capital of the world—NYU Wagner’s Social Innovation & Investment Initiative serves as the leader in the evolution of investment strategies at the intersection of public good and private benefit.

The Initiative is directed by Scott Taitel, Clinical Associate Professor of Finance, who previously served as Chief Operating Officer for the Clinton Foundation’s Enterprise Partnership and was responsible for establishing impact investment funds as well as creating and overseeing a portfolio of effective social enterprises throughout the developing world.


The Social Innovation & Investment Initiative receives support and guidance from a consortium of funders, advisors, and family foundations.


Who Benefits? Symposium on Diversity and Inclusion in Social Finance 

In partnership with the Ford Foundation, the Initiative will host a day-long symposium that will assess the state of diversity and inclusion in impact investing in New York City, and define an agenda for additional research, education, and advocacy to establish frameworks to fuel greater equity in social finance policy and practices.  The symposium will convene executive decision-makers from the social finance community and is by invitation only.

Student-Led Impact Investing Fund

In a joint project with the NYU Stern School of Business and NYU School of Law, students will develop, manage, and maintain an impact investing fund that aims to generate both financial and social returns.

Case Study Development

The Initiative will develop a case study on the evolution and impact of a family foundation's visionary mission impact investing program.  


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