5 Questions for Ann Dill
Ann Dill gives her students a toolbox for change. As a professor at Brown, she taught courses like Investing in Social Change that immerse students in the theory and practice of philanthropy. Here she explains how she learned from a young age that "the only way to make change was to make waves."
Liza: How do you define social innovation?
Ann: I think of social innovation as rethinking what’s wrong. You have to question fundamental assumptions, binaries, premises, procedures, and want to make a change that will make things work more efficiently, more effectively, more ethically, more kindly, more compassionately, more lovingly.
What is your personal motivation for exploring social innovation?
A: I’ve always been upset by social inequalities. I grew up in a very conventional family in a part of the world that might as well have been back in the 19th century in some ways. There were crossing guards to make sure that the traffic would stop and the kids could cross the street safely. Only boys were allowed to be crossing guards. They got to wear a neat white sash with a badge and hold up a sign and they had some authority. And it just didn’t make any sense to me that a girl couldn’t do it. So I got a group of my friends together and we wrote a petition and took it to the principal of the school to ask that girls be allowed to be crossing guards. And she called us all into her office and said don’t ever do that again. She said this. But the next year, girls were allowed to be crossing guards. So on the one hand I was being told “don’t make waves” and on the other hand I saw that sometimes the only way to make change was to make waves. Social injustice just does not make any sense at any level to me - it never did. So it’s a question of how do you get at it, how do you root it out?
Where do sociologists fit in to changemaking?
A: Well, if we don’t do it I don’t know who will. We try to understand why there is social injustice and we try to understand it not just at a political level but at the level of knowledge creation and distribution of economic resources in terms of cultural ideologies. We’re putting all the pieces together: the political, economic, cultural, social, interactional, individual, macro-level, industrial-level. None of these problems is one-dimensional. They all have multiple possibilities for change but also multiple barriers to making change. So you need as many tools in your tool chest as you can get and sociology has a lot of them.
I’m already aware of an issue that I’m passionate about changing. Why should I study social theory?
I think otherwise you get lost in the trees. Each case can be so particular and so troublesome, whether that’s the case of an individual whose life is in turmoil or an organization that isn’t working well or a community that’s at loggerheads. The closer you look at any case, the messier it’s going to be. So how do you make sense of it?
You have to have some concepts that give you some way in, so you can say “okay, what’s happening in congress right now is pretty much what happened in my child’s playground the other day.” The advantage of theory is that I can take an organization from Croatia, an organization from the US, an organization from Kenya, and I can tell you something about the difficulties they share or the strategies they’re trying because I have an overarching theoretical framework. It enables you to see commonalities and forests instead of just trees.
What are some examples of sociology students applying classroom concepts to social change?
One of my former students did his thesis with me on social enterprise in Rhode Island, and he became the in-house director of voluntary activity and philanthropy at Google. That’s him – that wasn’t me. But I did help smooth his way a bit; I provided the pathways down which he ran faster than I could ever keep up. I’ve got a student who’s working for City Year in the Boston office, and I’ve got a student who’s interning in the first lady’s office in the White House. These are people who’ve worked their way into organizations that are directly involved in public, private, and nonprofit social change about as much as you can be.
December 17, 2015
December 16, 2015
Ria is a 2015 Social Innovation Fellow and co-founder of No Country for Women (NCFW), an internationally-recognized gender education initiative that aims to combat systemic gender-based discrimination in India. Ria and her co-founder, Shreena Thakore ’16, who grew up in India, were awarded the Projects for Peace fellowship and used this grant to launch the project in May of 2014. NCFW was set up to educate the people in India on gender, rape culture, and misogyny through a series of workshops and initiate informed discussions about social change.
I was inspired by Ria’s story because she was determined to start a conversation about an issue in a country that fights hard to keep such issues silent and hidden. We reflected on Ria’s experiences, her interactions with young people, most of whom had never thought about this obvious form of discrimination before, and her moments of self-doubt and extreme conviction.
December 8, 2015
Drew first became interested in filmmaking at an end of the year party at his kindergarten graduation, glued to the screen watching Star Wars while his friends ran around the yard screaming. His love of political science was ignited by his high school constitutional law class and exposure to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, all of which provided average citizens access to a better understanding of the impact of the law.
Now Drew is a junior at Brown, bringing together his interests by double concentrating in Political Science and Modern Culture and Media. He brings his passion for filmmaking and accessibility of policies outside of the classroom by making films with Brown Motion Pictures and working as the head University News editor for The Brown Daily Herald. Next semester, however, Drew is taking the spring off to work at the U.S. Embassy in Dublin, Ireland, where he’ll be working in the consulate, handling public affairs issues, and hopefully creating multimedia projects while being in charge of their website.
December 2, 2015
“Time is a social construct,” Anastasiya laughs. From where I stand, I can’t imagine she has any.
It was a miracle that she agreed to sit and chat with me — between two meetings, of course. First off, Anastasiya is the co-editor-in-chief at bluestockings Magazine, an online feminist publication committed to a gender-aware, anti-oppressive framework. She is a facilitator for the Gender, Power, Sexuality (GPS) workshop (formerly known as FemSex), which is a student-led sexuality workshop held every semester. She is on Brown’s Title IX Oversight and Advisory Board, which reviews and makes recommendations concerning the University’s handling of sexual assault and gender-based violence on campus. Oh, and she also works remotely for Know Your IX, a national organization that empowers students to stop sexual violence and support survivors, by educating about student rights under Title IX. See what I mean? A miracle.
Anastasiya and I sat on a blanket on the main green, reflecting on her time spent within these communities at Brown: communities that advocate for social change, and also provide a supportive space for their members to share their own experiences and vulnerabilities with one another.
November 10, 2015
Professor Sarah Besky is alternately described as a “goddess” (by her students), as “a thorn in corporations’ sides” (by herself) and as an anthropologist (by the rest of the world).
She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology and the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown and author of The Darjeeling Distinction, an ethnographic study of the lives of tea plantation workers in India. Here is an anthropological look at her journey from coastal Connecticut to lush Nepal and back to Providence.
November 3, 2015
Olivia’s commitment to Swearer runs deep. She helps lead and coordinate Rhode Island Urban Debate League (RIUDL), which empowers local high school students to project their voices through debate, and increases their college readiness and academic success (see her wonderful story on RIDUL here).
Recently, she has been grappling with how to make the Swearer Center more inclusive of students of color. It’s a crucial conversation for all public service centers - and universities in general - and I wanted to know her process.