“Our model offers a leadership pathway for social innovation and social entrepreneurship education at Cornell. By providing coursework, training, mentorship and fiscal sponsorship, we support students in developing their social change ideas from inspiration through ideation to implementation. Our model provides a safe learning environment in which students can test and actualize their ideas, learning from their mistakes, successes and even failures.”

Center for Transformative Action – 2016 Awardee

Center for Transformative Action (CTA) at Cornell University provides a safe, supportive infrastructure for growth, learning and development of  new and up-and-coming nonprofits. Here budding social entrepreneurs can to focus on testing innovative approaches to difficult social problems, establishing a viable financial model, and building organizational and programmatic capacity.

While business advice and mentorship are valuable to non-profit social entrepreneurs, the very process of becoming a tax-exempt organization is a considerable barrier. It is time consuming, costly, and confusing. But without 501(c)3 status in hand, nonprofit social entrepreneurs cannot approach potential donors and grantors. Without funding, the piloting of programs or services is hamstrung.

Instead of taking on the time, expense, and risk of establishing their own 501(c)3 organizations, fledgling non-profit social ventures can come under CTA’s legal structure and benefit from our tax-exempt status. Once under our fiscal sponsorship, we assume their legal and fiduciary risk, thus eliminating for them the worry and hassle associated with maintaining a 501(c)3.

In addition to providing business services (i.e., accounting, payroll, insurance, grants management, government filing) and the legal umbrella, CTA offers individualized mentorship, and campus and community based educational programs in social entrepreneurship/innovation.



Since 1971, CTA has served over 70 ventures affecting hundreds of thousands of people. 41 are still operating: 25 are current CTA ventures, 14 are independent 501(c)3 organizations, and 9 have a national presence.

Over the decades, CTA ventures have affected hundreds of thousands of people. They have facilitated social change work on campus, in our community, and across the country, helping to transform people’s lives, their environments, and the injustices embedded in them.

Current ventures range from a farm incubator for new farmers from marginalized groups to a database of enslaved Americans burial sites; from the campus based Alternatives Library to a national coalition for human rights educators.

Many of our recent projects have the potential for far reaching impact. If, for example, the ERA Coalition is successful in fostering the passage and ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, every female in the United States will benefit in perpetuity. Climate Changers, a new venture, has the potential for world wide impact through its uplifting and inspiring online environment that offers replicable efforts to reverse and diminish the effects of climate change by showing how individuals around the world are taking action through government, business, organizations, communities, and as citizens. If successful, Anabel’s Grocery, a student run store that combats food insecurity by providing subsidies to those in need, will serve hundreds of Cornell students daily by providing healthy and affordable food and educational programs that support them in cooking nutritious meals, as well as stigma free access for students who are food insecure.


How can people get involved in or replicate your innovation?

Fiscal sponsorship is not unique to CTA and, therefore, CTA’s model is highly replicable. We follow the best practices recommended by the National Network of Fiscal Sponsors, which are used by some of the largest fiscal sponsors in the country including the Tides Foundation and Third Sector New England.

CTA can offer support, advice, and consultation for universities and colleges interested in adopting our model. We can share specifics about our internal practices, procedures, and systems, our affiliation and operating agreements with Cornell, as well as CTA’s affiliation agreement with our fiscally sponsored ventures. With over 40 years of experience, our relationship with Cornell is clearly defined and our incubator model is well developed. With increased interest in the promise of social entrepreneurship to help transform local economies so that they are socially just, ecologically sound, and work for everyone, our model has a lot to offer.

We believe this arrangement can be easily replicated or modified to suit the cultures and needs of other universities and colleges.


Contact information 

Anke Wessels
Executive Director, Center for Transformative Action
[email protected]

Cordes Innovation Awards

In partnership with Cordes Foundation, Ashoka U seeks to recognize globally relevant teaching, learning, and partnership practices that may be adapted and replicated across the field.