Emily Lamb

Emily manages the Changemaker Campus network, a collective of post-secondary institutions dedicated to making changemaking a norm in higher education.

How Do You Make Changemaking a Daily Practice?

“Universities, it seems to me, should model something for students besides individual excellence… They should model social excellence as well as personal achievement… If institutions that purport to educate young people don’t embody society’s cherished ideals – community, cooperation, harmony, love – then what young people will learn will be the standards institutions do embody: competition, hierarchy, busyness, and isolation.” – Professor Jane Tompkins, Duke University

This is the first quote you’ll read in the introduction to Ashoka U’s new publication Changemaker Institutions, which dives into why and how higher education must re-imagine itself for the 21st century.

I think it’s a powerful quote, not just because its claim that higher ed must reflect the ideals of society, but because it leads to a much larger notion: we must build things in a way that embodies the vision, values, and needs of the community we support.

It seems so simple. It’s something we at Ashoka U whole heartedly believe in and value in organizations, especially when it comes to social change work. So, we’ve taken a hard look at the ways that we can practice – and not just preach – changemaking in a day-to-day way.

We won’t pretend to have all the answers. In fact, we mostly have questions right now. But we wanted to share these questions with you and put them front and center in our program design as we embark on this journey.

Who gets positioned as a thought leader?

Our Current Status Quo: The Exchange, our annual convening for hundreds of social change educators, positions session speakers as experts on selected topics. Our agenda showcases an array of information about how we must transform higher education. This includes deep dives into social innovation curriculum, student involvement, and community engagement. In an effort to create a fair and democratic selection process, speakers are selected based on a presentation application.  As a result, faculty and staff from our network are often selected, due to their demonstrated expertise or interest in a specific topic.

Adding a Changemaking Lens: While our current model helps to ensure that higher education stakeholders already in our network are positioned on the agenda, there are still other topic experts who are often missing – like students and community partners.

We recognize that the tapestry of perspectives and expertise is often what makes a program rich and impactful and we must challenge the notion that thought leadership can only come from one place. As we look to the 2019 Exchange, we hope to instead welcome a variety of expertise, beginning with who we put in the front of the room.   

How do we celebrate, honor, and make space for the diversity of ideas in the room – without othering those ideas?

Building on my prior point, diversity of ideas is critical to creating rich and impactful programming, courses, solutions, etc. It often means new ideas and new opportunities are brought to the table. But in a culture that thrives on “being right”, we must check our egos at the door. We musts make sure we welcome differing ideas instead of proving why we are right. Coming together often starts at remembering “the why” of our work and the purpose that drives it.

Our Current Status Quo: During sessions at the Exchange, we often mix-and-match panelists to reflect a diversity of perspectives on a specific topic. We also recommend small-group discussion time so individuals can share their own experiences.

Adding a Changemaking Lens: Of course, this means we must listen with open, curious ears and practice empathy to understand another’s perspectives. It takes humility and time. It also means we must take a step back and look inward to understand ourselves. Every single person brings biases and privileges into the room. So it’s time we start recognizing and checking that.

How can you maximize the impact in all parts of work?

After planning eight consecutive Exchanges, we recognize that how we run an event is just as important as who is speaking at it. So many components, seen and unseen, go into producing and managing an event, from printing and paper use, food consumption, travel, hotel and space usage, event staffing, and the list goes on. For example, did you know that, on average, a trade show uses 170 trees worth of paper?

Our Current Status Quo: Often times supplies, vendors, and staffing are selected based on a budget and a bottom line. Period. Or it’s based on what is most easily available. And oftentimes, sponsorship opportunities are directly tied to things like postcards and handouts.

Adding a Changemaker Lens: But what if values started to play a role in the decision-making process? What if we started to consider the economic and eco-footprint of our events in addition to the bottom line? What if we started to go back to the purpose of why an action is being taken and ask if there an alternative way that can match our values?

Looking to the 2019 Exchange, we hope to make improvements in how we engage with all of our vendors to ensure values alignment. 

How do we design to best support our community?

This answer is simple, yet not always implemented. We must consult with that community. This means we need you. We’d love to hear more about your needs as a changemaker educator and how would you like the Exchange to best serve you. 

What topics are top of mind? What would you like to discuss with other changemaker educators? What areas do you need support? What areas do you want to celebrate?


They are simple(ish) questions, but ones we’re excited to embark on better understanding. Feel free to schedule a conversation with me, Emily Lamb to discuss. Your feedback, suggestions, and insights will inform the entire Ashoka U team as we plan the 2019 Exchange, which will take place on February 21-23, 2019 in San Diego California.

We look forward to hearing what’s on your mind as you look to better embody changemaking in all you do.

At the core of Ashoka U, we believe “everyone is a changemaker” – and this includes us – as individuals and team members of Ashoka U, but also as an organization. We look forward to embarking on this journey of self reflection and improvement with you.


The Ashoka U Exchange is one of the largest international gatherings for college and university professionals to learn and share leading practices for embedding social innovation in higher education. To educate leaders to succeed in the 21st century, we believe social innovation and changemaking is key. 

The 2019 Exchange, co-hosted by UC San Diego in San Diego, California, will take place on February 21-23, 2019. The presentation application goes live on July 10. The registration goes live on October 15.