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headshot of Laura Wood

Social Impact Lab Offers Student Leaders a ‘Laboratory for Ideas’

Social Impact Lab is a weekly forum that convenes students, leading alumni, and practitioners in the fields of social entrepreneurship and economic development for discussions around a wide array of issues in the social enterprise sector. Sponsored by Yale SOM’s Program on Social Enterprise, Innovation, and Impact, SI Lab provides firsthand opportunities to learn about career paths in the field. Yale SOM students serve as co-leaders of SI Lab. Laura Wood ’21 shares her experiences as a co-leader this year.

Social Impact Lab is more than just a lecture series: It’s a laboratory for ideas where students are encouraged to ask questions and discuss the given topic with the presenter and fellow audience members. I knew after my first month at SOM that I wanted to be a leader of SI Lab.

Every Wednesday at lunch, my co-lead and I host Social Impact Lab (SI Lab), a weekly speaker series that brings both internal and external lecturers to campus to discuss major trends in social impact. Topics range from impact investing and philanthropy to education reform and environmental sustainability.

My leadership position has been a highlight of my second year here at Yale SOM. I have been a regular attendee of SI Lab since my first year. I was initially drawn in by the interesting topics and welcoming atmosphere (and also the free lunch).

The collaborative nature of SI Lab extends to the leadership opportunity it provides. Hosting our external speakers presented several networking opportunities, where I often spoke one-on-one with thought leaders in social impact. Some of my favorites this year included Sir Ronald Cohen, a world leader and advocate for social investment, and Sally Abi Khalil, the country director for Oxfam Lebanon.

In addition to our prestigious external speakers, a majority of our labs throughout the year featured student lecturers from the Yale SOM community. These labs highlight the expertise of our very own student body. My co-lead and I collaborate directly with students, helping them narrow down themes and/or shape the story of their lab. These workshopping sessions have allowed me to build stronger relationships and connect with classmates I otherwise would not have met.

Some of the most memorable student speaker examples from the year include Billy Huang’s analysis of affordable housing in New Haven, Kathleen Keefe’s review of community development financial institutions, and Evan Okun’s discussion of restorative justice. It has been a privilege to spotlight the hard work and aspirations of my peers.

Like every student organization this year, SI Lab continues to grapple with the challenges brought on by the pandemic. While we cannot entice our audience with in-person connection and free lunch, our exciting topics and noteworthy guests still draw a significant crowd over Zoom.

Despite our virtual transition, SI Lab maintains its prominence as a space to imagine what the future could hold for social entrepreneurs. Leading SI Lab has exposed me to broad and diverse opportunities to engage in social impact from both private and public sectors, as well as domestically and globally.

This weekly commitment brought a welcome respite from schoolwork and the boredom of life in the pandemic birdcage. I am grateful for a place to encounter people and ideas that give me hope for a safer and more interesting future.