The New School Changemaker Campus

Social Innovation at the New School

Forward-thinking educators founded The New School in 1919 to defy the intellectual constraints of traditional college education. As it approaches its centennial, The New School remains on the cutting edge-attracting active scholars, artists, and pacesetters who deploy creativity and innovation to challenge the status quo. Learn more about The New School’s vision here.

In New York City, Paris, and online, The New School enrolls 10,000 degree-seeking students in more than 130 undergraduate and graduate programs focused on collaborative, project-based, interdisciplinary learning. Education is driven by open discussion in small classes and a human-centered approach to problem solving, combining design thinking and social research to address the complex issues of our time.

At The New School, social innovation education is focused on enhancing the capacity of individuals, communities, and organizations to devise effective, just, and sustainable solutions to social and environmental challenges. 

Students collaborate with each other and with faculty and a range of external partners to design new forms of interaction, organizations, policies, technologies, and systems to improve lives and address pressing needs of the 21st century.

The New School’s unique approach to social innovation education leverages its strong capabilities in design, social sciences and the arts with a commitment to sustainability and social justice. It also emphasizes learning through action and many courses are structured as studios or practicum where students work together and with communities to make change happen.

Students can select from diverse interdisciplinary degree programs across the university to explore social innovation. In addition to a wide array of courses, the university offers unique educational contexts (labs, practicum, incubator, centers and research initiatives) through which students can engage in an exciting array of socially-engaged projects. Learn more about The New School’s divisions here.

Signature Programs:

The New School has many initiatives and centers in which faculty, students and external partners work on sustained projects on diverse social justice and sustainability issues. A few examples include:

Design for Social Innovation and Sustainability Lab (Parsons)

The DESIS Lab is a research laboratory created in 2009 at The New School in New York City. DESIS Lab works at the intersection of strategic and service design, management, and social theory, applying interdisciplinary expertise in problem setting and problem solving to sustainable practices and social innovation. A current focus is Public and Collaborative NYC, a collaboration with the Public Policy Lab, to explore how public services in New York City can be improved by incorporating greater citizen collaboration in service design and implementation.

New Challenge

The New Challenge is an annual ideas competition for students. Students can win up to $10,000 to develop tangible real-world projects, products, organizations, and the like aimed at solving problems in diverse communities. Students can submit entries of all types (ideas for new products or services, social ventures, policy-oriented initiatives, performance projects, documentary films, technology apps, game design, etc.). Students who apply to New Challenge also participate in the Social Innovation Bootcamp, a series of workshops to help them develop their ideas. Winners also receive mentorship from faculty and alumni.

The Community Development Finance Lab

The Community Development Finance Lab examines community capital markets through real-world projects. Students work as pro-bono consultants in partnership with community based organizations and social enterprises to conduct feasibility studies and business plans for their community economic development projects.

Engage Media Lab

The Engage Media Lab is an emerging participatory media initiative at the New School which engages faculty, students, and practitioners both locally and globally and seeks to empower the voices of youth, citizens and marginalized communities. It facilitates the creative production of new media that is inclusive, participatory and transformative.


PETLab (Prototyping, Evaluation, Teaching and Learning lab) develops games and interactive media that encourage experimental learning and investigation of social and global issues. Past projects range from a curriculum in game design for the Boys and Girls Club to games for disaster preparedness with the Red Cross/Red Crescent to big games such as Re:Activism and the fiscal sport Budgetball, played annually on the National Mall between college students and members of Congress and the White House.

New Challenge Video

New School Video:

Change Leaders:

Michele Kahane, Professor of Professional Practice, Social Entrepreneurship, Milano School of International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy
Jonathan Williams, Masters Candidate, Parsons

Change Team:

Cynthia Lawson, Associate Provost for Distributed and Global Education and Associate Professor of Integrated Design, Parsons the New School for Design
Mary Watson, Executive Dean, New School for Public Engagement
Eddie Shiomi, Director, Educational Innovation, Provost Office

Changemaker Campus

Launched in 2008, Ashoka offers the Changemaker Campus designation to leading institutions in social innovation education. These institutions share the vision for higher education to become the next global driver of social change by transforming the educational experience into a world-changing experience.