This spring, two teams of graduate students from the Brown School, Olin Business School and the School of Law took part in the first-ever Social Innovation Initiative.The initiative is part of the Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship Lab at Washington University in St. Louis.

The student teams were paired with community partners already working on the issue of racial inequity in infant mortality rates. They focused on two predominantly African-American zip codes in St. Louis where the infant mortality rate is three times the national average. The initiative focused specifically on transportation challenges faced by expectant parents in those zip codes that affect their ability to access resources like adequate nutrition and prenatal care.

After developing an understanding of the full scope of the challenges, the Washington University student teams conducted research, applied lean startup methodology and then analyzed data, in an effort to offer a fresh look at the problem.

On April 5, they presented their findings at the Social Innovation Pitch Day. In a room packed with community leaders, nonprofit managers and government officials, the teams discussed their innovative approaches and how their data might be used to develop real-world solutions.

While there certainly will be barriers to implementation, their findings represent an important first step toward policy change.

Dr. Heather Cameron is the Michael B. Kaufman Professor of Practice in Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Brown School and a senior lecturer at Olin Business School. She is also the founding academic director of the SEI Lab. “We don’t want to build a cloud castle,” said Cameron. “We want to build a viable solution…We want to develop the social innovation initiative together with the community going forward.”

Learn more about the teams’ findings in the Source.