Jessica Lax

Increasing Ashoka U's breadth of impact

5 Reasons You Don’t Want to Miss The Exchange

People don’t often believe me when I say that the very first Ashoka U conference in 2008 had 40 people sleeping in bunk beds and presenting around a campfire. Eight years later – just a few things have changed!

Today 700 people flock from across the globe to share ideas on how to turn colleges and universities into hubs of social innovation. And after years of convening innovators in changemaker education, we’ve learned what it takes to fuel this growing movement.

The 8th annual Ashoka U Exchange will be co-hosted by Babson College in Boston and will take place on April 5-7th, 2018. As we prepare to open our call for proposals on August 15th, I spent some time reflecting on the Exchange feedback I’ve heard from our community. Here are five reasons I heard that explain why people keep coming back year after year.

1) Find Your People

“The Exchange sets people walking on a re-energized path for the upcoming year, and reminds them that they are in the company of other like-minded souls.” – Exchange attendee

Attendees often tell us that coming to the Exchange is like “coming home.” People know your challenges, speak your language, and offer the kind of insights that only someone who has been in your shoes can share. With a range of perspectives and disciplines represented you’re guaranteed to find your people.

Going to the Exchange brings you to you a place where everyone just gets it. Where more than anything else – people say ‘yes.’ Even if it’s only for a few days that can power you up for a long time!

2) Stay on the Cutting Edge

“I always love the thought-provoking keynotes at the Exchange – many of which have had an impact on our strategic direction.” – Exchange attendee

We know that no one has time to follow everything that happens in this field and that sometimes the best ideas don’t come from this field at all. That’s why we do our best to bring you sessions that will challenge your thinking and drive the future of your work.

We curate insights from the hundreds of campus innovators we work with through our three programs: the Exchange, the Commons, and Changemaker Campus.

Insights also come from the rest of Ashoka. Ashoka U is just the higher education initiative of Ashoka – so we have more than 250 other colleagues in 30 countries. Together, they are making changemaking the norm across a range of other fields. The Exchange draws inspiration from this incredible network bringing you a diversity of ideas that you won’t find anywhere else.

Just to get a taste of the insights featured on the agenda, check out a few of the sought-after sessions from our 2017 Exchange:

  • Paths, Impacts & Challenges for social innovation and service learning
  • Collaboration for Institutional Change
  • Introduction to Systems Change
  • Integrating Curricular & Co-Curricular Offerings
  • How to Build It So They Will Come: Best Practices in Student Engagements
  • Measuring the Impact of Social Innovation Education

This year, for the first time, we will also be hosting “Big Idea Talks” throughout the Exchange. These TED-style talks will showcase big-picture, cutting- edge ideas from inspiring speakers on topics such as future scenarios for higher education and big ideas around social impact.

3) Uncover Your Intersections

“It was good for me to learn the language of social innovation because I come from a service learning and sociology background. I think our field, Sport for Development and Peace, would grow substantially and benefit from a funding perspective if more people had the language and approaches I gained at The Exchange.”

Ashleigh Huffman, University of Tennessee, 2017 first time Exchange attendee

Service learning. Civic engagement. Social Innovation. Changemaking. We get that there are many different ways that “making a social impact” can manifest on campus. We make it our priority to understand those intersections and build bridges between them. Check out this keynote from the 2017 Exchange for more on this.

The Exchange brings together faculty and staff from disciplines as diverse as law, music, global health, engineering, and journalism – just to name a few. We strive for this diversity because it represents the real world where changemaking doesn’t live in a single discipline. So even if you don’t use social innovation or changemaking to describe your work, if you focus on creating social impact, then we want you to be a part of the conversation.

4) Learn – don’t just Listen

At Ashoka U our events and learning experiences are modeled on the changes we want to see in higher education.

You won’t sit in lecture after lecture at the Exchange. Sessions vary in format. A single day might have you walking through rows of tomato seedlings on an urban farm, in a lunch conversation with an Ashoka Fellow, and then deliberating over coffee with five others who run similar programs on their campus.

Exchange content also reflects your needs and interests as a whole person. Whether it’s a session on how to be an entrepreneurial introvert or a meditation space where you can recharge, we know that you are more than just your profession.

Presenters also share the reality of their work. As a community, we embrace failure and want you to share what you’ve learned as a result.

“People are generous with their content and willing to share where they have fallen short. It’s not always just people sharing a shiny, pre-packaged offering.”

– Rebecca Otten, Tulane University and 7-year Exchange participant.

5) Get Outside Your Bubble

The Exchange is not an academic conference. It’s also not purely a practitioner conference. Nor is it a social sector conference. In fact – it’s the blending of these things that makes it such a powerful experience.

We bring together people from both the curricular and co-curricular sides of an institution. Of the more than 700 Exchange attendees, a quarter are faculty, and another quarter are administrators. We also bring in the student perspective with more than 100 students working on cross-campus change attending every year. And finally, because changing higher education won’t happen in a bubble, the Exchange includes more than 100 attendees from the nonprofit sector. Many of these practitioners are Ashoka Fellows leading some of the highest impact organizations in the world.

The Exchange isn’t just a conference. It’s a gathering of innovators who are redefining the role of higher education. Though we may not be sitting around a campfire anymore, the vision that drew people together eight years ago is stronger than ever.

We’ll see you there!

The 8th Annual Ashoka U Exchange will be co-hosted by Babson College in Boston, April 5-7th, 2018. Click here to register to attend!