A project-based initiative and course aimed at solving complex global problems through design

Design for Social Innovation is a project-based initiative and course where Columbia University students work in teams to solve real-world problems on behalf of social sector clients including nonprofits, social enterprises, and government agencies. Sandra Hoffen ‘87CC and Howard Hoffen ‘85SEAS, have generously underwritten the inaugural two years of Design for Social Innovation where the students work as “intrapreneurs” (entrepreneurs within organizations) on innovation projects, looking at their clients’ organizational or programmatic challenges through the lens of human-centered design.

This Spring 2021, 40 students representing 10 of Columbia’s undergraduate and graduate schools are embarking on the design process, which includes four phases:


  1. Explore: Research Challenge, Interview and Map Stakeholders, Identify Needs
  2. Reframe: Synthesize Information, Relationship Mapping
  3. Generate: Brainstorming and Ideation, Design Principles
  4. Prototype: Develop Prototype (Product, Service, or System), Testing, Iterating


Each interdisciplinary team of students is working with one of the following clients:


Sandy Hook Promise : Gun Violence, K-12 Education, Youth Resilience and Wellbeing, Earned Income Models and Education Systems

The High Line: Sustainability, Green Infrastructure, Sustainability, Parks, Abandoned Public Spaces

The Jed Foundation: Youth Mental Health, Suicide Prevention, Working in US School System, Partnership Building

NYC Department of Education: K-12 Education, Ed Tech, Remote Learning, New School Design

Joan Ganz Cooney Center @ Sesame Workshop: Early Childhood Education, Research, Learning Science, Media Impact on Children, Ed Tech

Volcani International Partnerships: Sustainability, Green Infrastructure, Sustainability, Parks, Abandoned Public Spaces


The initiative is a collaboration between Columbia Entrepreneurship’s Design Studio and the Columbia School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) and is built around a 15 week, 3.0 credit course.

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