History of the Center for Social Innovation

Man giving a lecture

In the late 1990s, Stanford GSB faculty, the dean’s office, students, and alumni recognized an opportunity for Stanford GSB to play a critical role in developing leaders to help solve global social and environmental challenges.

In 1999, they came together to create the Center for Social Innovation and reinforce Stanford GSB’s leadership in educating global leaders.

Jim Phills, professor of organizational behavior, joined in 2000 as the first faculty director to champion this ambitious agenda. Under Jim’s leadership, the center developed a robust strategic plan and created an extensive array of programs that would establish the Center for Social Innovation as the academic leader.

Leveraging the assets of Stanford University and Stanford Graduate School of Business, CSI expanded the work of the school to a larger audience of executives around the globe through research, education, and community outreach. The Center set on a course to create a field of social innovation, a journey that led to the launch of multiple academic centers for social innovation around the world and the creation of the White House Office for Social Innovation in the United States.

Today, the Center for Social Innovation focuses its efforts at home supporting Stanford faculty in their pursuit of knowledge to educate insightful leaders for social and environmental change.

Louise & Claude Rosenberg Jr. Director

The Edith M. Cornell Professor of Political Economy


Start-Up (2000-2001)
  • First public conference: High-Impact Philanthropy, focused on maximizing philanthropic impact.
2001 First two Executive Programs for social sector leaders:
  • The Executive Program for Nonprofit Leaders, a first-of-its-kind endeavor that will become the center’s flagship leadership development program.
  • High-Impact Philanthropy, focused on helping individual donors maximize philanthropic impact.
Integration (2002-2003)
2002 Dale Miller, social psychologist and professor of organizational behavior, joins as faculty co-director
Stanford GSB programs find new potential and synergies by becoming part of the center:
  • The business school’s Alumni Consulting Team integrates into the center, offering pro bono management consulting services to nonprofits around the Bay Area.
  • The three-decade old MBA academic and leadership development program, the Public Management and Social Innovation Program, becomes part of the center and continues to offer its unique Certificate in Public Management and Social Innovation while expanding its activities.
The center launches new initiatives:
  • Stanford Educational Leadership Institute: A collaboration with Stanford School of Education focused on bringing knowledge from the business and education fields to support current and emerging education industry leaders
  • Stanford Project on Emerging Nonprofits: the center’s first major research initiative — a five-year study that examined how nonprofit leaders appropriate, adapt, or reject management ideas and practices as they create and shape social purpose institutions
And expands its program portfolio:
  • Strategy for Nonprofit Organizations, a team-based Executive Education program focused on mission and strategy
  • Executive Program for Educational Leaders, an executive program developed by the SELI initiative for school leadership teams engaged in redesigning school districts
  • Executive Program for Nonprofit Leaders-Arts, a leadership development program created in collaboration with National Arts Strategies and tailored to the unique dynamics of arts organizations
2003 The center develops its offerings:
  • Building Capacity in School Systems: The center’s first institute organized in partnership with Grantmakers for Education
  • Stanford Social Innovation Review: A new quarterly magazine presents the best in research and practice-based knowledge to help those who do the important work of improving society do it even better
  • Environmental Sustainability Initiative: The MBA curriculum integrates environmental concepts both in core courses and via the creation of new courses on environmental sustainability.
  • Philanthropy Discussions Series: A multiyear speaker series, hosted in collaboration with the Stanford Haas Center for Public Service, engages practitioners and academics on the public obligations of philanthropy.
Growth (2004-2009)
  • Effective Disruption Management: A one-day seminar features business and nonprofit leaders and academics around lessons in humanitarian disaster relief
  • Leading Constructive Public Engagement: A Stanford Educational Leadership Institute conference brings 16 school district teams to focus on district leadership
  • Executive Education for Philanthropy Leaders: A new executive education program focused on the strategy and management of grantmaking institutions.
  • Bridging the Gap — Leading Social Innovation Across Sectors, the Stanford/Net Impact conference attracts a record-breaking 1,300 MBA students from across the United States
  • Stanford Project on the Evolution of Nonprofits publishes its report, and shares its findings at conferences with foundation and nonprofit executives
  • The Nonprofit Innovation Award, a competition cosponsored by the center with Amazon.com grants prizes to innovative nonprofits in the United States
  • Social Innovation Conversations: A new podcast channel delivers to the world the voices of the people at the forefront of creating social change
  • The Service Learning Initiative: A new opportunity for MBA students to learn about pressing global issues in depth, and to study pioneering models of social impact
  • First annual Nonprofit Management Institute: Hosted by the Stanford Social Innovation Review attracts 200 nonprofit executives
  • Program-Related Investment Conference: A gathering of foundation leaders to explore new ways to leverage their assets for social change
2007 The center launches new programs:
  • Conversations in Philanthropy, an anthology on the purposes, accountability, and practices of 21st-century philanthropy
  • Socially and Environmentally Responsible Supply Chain Program: A new research initiative launched at the inaugural Social and Environmental Supply Chain conference in collaboration with the Stanford Global Supply Chain Forum
  • Business Strategies for Environmental Sustainability: A new executive education program for leaders in business, government, nongovernmental organizations, and political action organizations delivers strategies to gain competitive advantage through environmentally sustainable practices
Solving the world’s toughest social and environmental problems favors leaders with an ability to bridge academic disciplines and tap into expertise spanning multiple areas. Stanford offers the opportunity to combine and strengthen the academic experience through the following joint degrees for MBA students:
  • Master of Public Policy/MBA for students interested in pursuing careers in public policy or at the intersection of business and government. Offered in conjunction with the School of Humanities & Sciences
  • MS in Environment & Resources/MBA for students interested in a career addressing environmental issues. Offered in conjunction with the School of Earth Sciences
  • Corporate Social Responsibility program: The center’s first international executive program launched in collaboration with ESADE business school explores new ways in which companies can incorporate societal and environmental perspectives into strategic thinking
  • Executive Program for Social Entrepreneurs: The sixth program in the center’s Executive Education portfolio tailored to the needs and challenges facing successful social entrepreneurs. EPSE is designed to help social entrepreneurs take their enterprises and innovative models to the next level by refining their ideas and leveraging their impact
  • The Stanford Social Innovation Review publishes a seminal article defining Social Innovation
  • Social Innovation Fellowship: A yearlong program provides a stipend to Stanford MBA students or teams to enable them to devote 100% of their first year after graduation building their vision for social change into a viable social enterprise
New Directions (2010-present)
  • The Certificate in Public Management and Social Innovation for MSx and MBA students is revised to provide a richer academic experience aligned to interests in international development, education, healthcare, energy and the environment, social entrepreneurship, corporate responsibility and ethics, public policy and nonprofit management. The certificate requirements include a practicum and ensure students are better prepared for and demonstrate more commitments to solving social and environmental problems.
  • The Stanford Social Innovation Review, a venture the center seeded and started-up over the past five years, transitioned to the Center for Philanthropy and Civic Society at Stanford where it will expand and flourish
  • Impact Labs is created to support the exploration by students of nonprofit board governance, impact funding, and responsible business through the eyes of leaders in the field who serve as their mentors.
  • The Stanford GSB Impact Fund is created.
Founded in 1971

Arjay Miller envisioned a program that would educate government leaders who understood the needs — and techniques — of business as well as businesspeople who knew something about government.