Innovating at the Frontiers: The Beeck Center + Georgetown’s Jesuit Tradition

August 11, 2017 | By Clara Cecil

From July 19 to 23, Georgetown hosted the National Jesuit Student Leadership Conference (NJSLC) for the first time in the Conference’s 21-year history. The Conference brought together over 300 student leaders from 27 Jesuit institutions to discuss problems common among Jesuit student leaders, brainstorm solutions to these problems, advocate on Capitol Hill for issues important to college students, and explore the District of Columbia. I worked on the planning committee for the Conference and I also had the opportunity to present on the Beeck Center’s work with Regina, a fellow Student Analyst.

During the process of preparing for the presentation, I considered the direct relationship between Georgetown’s Jesuit values and the Beeck Center’s work. As a Jesuit institution, Georgetown is founded on core values such as cura personalis (care for the whole person), academic excellence, and community in diversity. I had been aware of the relationship between these values and social impact, but I had never considered the interwoven nature of this relationship. While the Beeck Center’s work is secular in nature, it became increasingly clear throughout my reflection that the Center engages deeply with Georgetown’s Jesuit values in both its day-to-day work and large-scale endeavors.

Social impact and social innovation are often grounded in theory, leading to critiques that the field focuses too much on research and not enough on results. The same could be said for Jesuit values, which provide useful buzzwords to be taught in the classroom or displayed on banners around campus, but are often more complex to implement in daily life. However, the Beeck Center defies both of these criticisms, taking social innovation theories and Jesuit values and putting them into practice. Through its focus on innovation at scale, the Beeck Center turns theory on its head, emphasizing the way policy and technological innovations can be implemented to promote desired outcomes. In true Jesuit form, the Beeck Center connects theory with why it matters for the greater good.

The Beeck Center engages with cura personalis by striving to respect the unique circumstances of each person who may be impacted by its work. For example, through research on policy innovation, the Center works to insert the unique experiences of diverse individuals into the conversation, especially those who have been traditionally marginalized, in order to make policy more inclusive and human-centered.

The Center’s focus on inclusivity translates into its practice of acting as men and women for and with others. During my time at the Beeck Center, I have found that everyone who works here cares deeply about leaving the world a better place than they found it, which is reflected in the Center’s work. When students enter communities around the world through GU Impacts fellowships, they work on projects that were developed collaboratively by matching the needs of the community to the skills of the student. Instead of presuming a community’s needs, GU Impacts fellows engage in a thoughtful fellowship built on extensive orientation and reflection.

Another hallmark of the Jesuits is the idea of engaging at the frontiers, something that the Beeck Center does in both the physical sense and intellectual sense. From Managua, Nicaragua to Kigali, Rwanda, GU Impacts fellows spend their summers in places around the world that are by no means mainstream travel destinations. Intellectually, the Beeck Center’s work goes beyond customary practices to challenge mainstream thought. For example, the Center’s work on data and technology for social good investigates how traditional applications of data and technology can be recalibrated to drive social impact.

Jesuit priests at Georgetown often remind students that Georgetown is not only a school you go to, but it is also a place you go forth from. In keeping with this message, Georgetown graduates are often instructed to “go forth and set the world on fire.” (Fittingly, this was also the theme of the Conference.) In my mind, through its inclusive, outcomes-focused work at the frontiers, the Beeck Center exemplifies going forth and setting the world on fire all while remaining physically located on Georgetown’s campus.

Developing new solutions to old problems.

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