Reflections on the Changemaker Exchange 2016 A photo essay from new orleans, louisiana

In February 2016, staff and students from the University of Northampton visited the annual AshokaU Exchange as part of their work in making the University a Changemaker Campus. The Exchange is a gathering of over 700 academics, professional services staff and students from over 120 different universities around the world committed to making an 'everyone a Changemaker' world. This is a photo essay of their experiences.

The 2016 AshokaU Exchange was held in New Orleans' Tulane University

David Lewis, Students' Union

David, with obligatory morning coffee

Like many Students within the University of Northampton, I had no idea of depth of what Changemaker actually is. However, through my fortunate experiences of attending the Ashoka U exchange in the fantastic cultural hub that is New Orleans my eyes have been opened. Once I got over the mind-boggling manner that Changemaker sometimes come across as, everything seemed to click.

As an average university student who actively involved within university life, I believed Changemaker was just an additional tick box to include on your C.V. when to impress future employers. But coming back from the 2016 conference has opened informed me that Changemaker is not just another tick box, but it is almost “a way of life”.

Changemaker exists to encourage people to make a social impact within their community that will continue to enhance and grow even after they have been and gone. With this in mind, I wondered how we could incorporate this into the Students’ Union. Then it dawned on me, people are already doing this. Every year numerous societies engage with the local community in Changemaker activities. To take the Sikh society for example. Every week numerous member engage with the ‘Midland Langar Seva Society’ where they help feed homeless people and people in need within the community. Many members take this for granted but this is an obvious demonstration of Changemaker being used effectively within the local environment.

Another clear example of Changemaker is the Student Union led volunteering project NU Brew. This was started by a group of students who wanted to create their only locally produced and sourced beer and convert it into an ethical piece of social enterprise. It has evolved from a group of students wanting to have fun with a passion of craft beer, into a piece of social enterprise. With ‘Legless Llama’, the beer created by NU Brew being stocked at all SU bars.

Within the local community there are numerous opportunities for students to get involved with Changemaker activities. For example, our Stallion Sport Teams can teach and coach their transferable skills at grass root level within Northamptonshire. It will give the opportunity for young people from low income homes to get involved with sports and activities that have always be unavailable to them.

If we want more students to get involved and be active within the Changemaker community, we need to start at the hub of all student activity, the Students’ Union. With over 1,000 student volunteers actively getting involved each year, through the training of these we can instill the Changemaker values in 1/15th of the student population. Which will only continue to grow and grow.

David Preece, School of Education

About a year ago, my Centre for Education and Research colleague Jane Murray developed a project to research the University’s ‘Changemaker Student Awards’. What were the views and perceptions of pupils, parents and school staff about the programme? Did it make a difference to the young people involved? What were the benefits and barriers? When Jane invited me to help carry out the research, I was delighted. And when Wray Irwin told me that there was an opportunity to talk about our findings so far at Tulane University in New Orleans in the heart of the British winter…well, it didn’t take long to write the proposal!

Our proposal was successful, and Jane and I were told that we would be presenting as part of a 90- minute panel with colleagues from the USA. A couple of Skype meetings with our co-presenters and Tulane staff helped us firm up our presentation and we arrived at a wintry Heathrow at 6 a.m. looking forward to a few days of intellectual stimulation, warmth and the charms of New Orleans.

Flying into New Orleans (or NOLA as the locals named it) was interesting, as a massive storm was moving through. Our internal flight from Atlanta was one of the worst flights I’ve ever experienced and the city was pretty much shut. Schools had been closed at 12 noon, offices at 3p.m., and at 5p.m. walking from the taxi to the hotel was like being in a wind tunnel. Luckily the weather changed the next day, and it was increasingly sunny and warm during our time there.

The conference differed from European events in many ways. Each day began – for those who wished (which wasn’t me)– with 8am yoga and meditation; and ‘Awesome!’ was the adjective of choice for most presenters.

The Exchange (as the conference was called) took place at two sites. On Thursday and Friday, the venue was the Sheraton Hotel in the city’s French Quarter. This was where we were staying, and was literally five minutes from Bourbon Street and the heart of the city. On Saturday we were on campus at Tulane University, out in the leafy suburbs.

The whole of the Sheraton Hotel was also effectively an art gallery for the work of George Rodrigue, a local Cajun Pop artist whose ‘Blue Dog’ paintings are world famous, and are collected by US presidents and celebrities. The outside of the hotel is covered with Blue Dogs, and paintings, prints and statues were everywhere in the lobby and ground floor meeting rooms.

Blue Dog

Waking up on the 38th floor with a floor to ceiling window made each morning, well…’awesome’. From my room I could see straight across the city out to Lake Pontchartrain. A 7a.m. walk in the other direction took me within 5 minutes to the Mississippi river and the solemnity of the city’s Holocaust memorial. The French Quarter was just the other side of Canal Street, with its beautiful architecture. The Quarter built in the late 18th century, after the city burned to the ground in 1788, and it was spared when Hurricane Katrina devastated the city just over a decade ago. The narrow streets were filled with glorious buildings with elaborate ironwork and shuttered windows. Musicians were everywhere – jazz bands, country fiddlers and even a solitary bagpiper – and the city provided a fantastic setting for the conference.

Further afield, the city’s Botanical Gardens were filled with a colourful exhibition of giant Chinese Lanterns; and out by Tulane University, Audubon Park was home to a vast array of bird and animal life. As a keen birdwatcher I spent Saturday lunchtime walking the park with my binoculars and had fantastic views of the prehistoric-looking anhinga (or ‘water turkey’) snaking its way through the bayous and drying itself out in the sun. The city’s Mardi Gras festivities has taken place not long before we got there, and on the Tulane campus a bare tree was still decked with hundreds of necklaces and beads.


The conference went by in a whirl. On Thursday morning I went with Jane out to Bricolage Academy, a school serving children and families from a diversity of ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. We spent the morning shadowing a student as he moved from lesson to lesson – it was all I could do to drag Jane out of there. It was a lovely school – and not a million miles away from some of the Changemaker schools where we have been conducting our research. A ‘European lunch’ enabled us to network with colleagues from Glasgow Caledonian and Dublin City Universities, as well as Italian and Polish academics and social entrepreneurs. There seemed to be a lot of potential synergies – for example a shared desire to identify how the Ashoka approach can be implemented in a European context. Email addresses were exchanged, and a potential Erasmus+ strategic partnership could well be on the cards.

Dr Jane Murray

On Friday afternoon Jane and I gave our presentation as part of the panel on Changemaker education partnerships. This panel took place in ‘the gallery’ – and a gallery is exactly what it was. The walls were decked with about two dozen Blue Dog paintings and prints – and after the day’s events came to a close at 6.30 p.m. I spent a happy hour alone in the room with all this fantastic art.

Jane and I were pleased to have a good number of people in our audience – including our School’s Deputy Dean, Peter Wells, who assured us that he wasn’t there checking up on us. Hmm. Our topic – of evaluating how Changemaker activity and values play out in practice, and looking at how to evaluate its impact on student engagement – was one that seemed to resonate with a lot of people in the audience, and we were pleased to have American teachers and academics questioning us at the end of the panel.

Saturday was out at Tulane and we heard from a range of speakers who has used Changemaker principles to develop social enterprises in India and Africa, as well as to turn around a community college in inner city Dallas. All too soon the Exchange was over, and it was time to return to the UK. The flights back were smoother – though airplane breakfasts at 4.30 in the morning are, I fear, a taste I’ll never acquire. At just after 9 a.m. I was back on campus, where the first person I saw was a colleague from the School of Education. ‘Hello’, she said, ‘I’ve not seen you for a few days. What have you been doing?’

Roger Weston, Students' Union

My Ashoku U Exchange journey was based on developing a better understanding of the University’s Changemaker agenda and using this to devise an approach that the Students’ Union can adopt to help the University deliver on its Changemaker Challenges.

The journey started with a taxi from Park Campus at 4.30am on a cold Wednesday morning, and was a 20 hour door-to-door marathon that involved two taxis, two flights and David Lewis fresh out of Insane Tuesdays (An SU club night for those not in-the-know)! The journey itself was a blessing, it bonded the group of 5 students and I before we even arrived at the exchange, allowing us to connect well enough to make honest ideas-sharing a running theme throughout.

Rather than taking you through a blow-by-blow of my activities on the exchange, I thought I’d share what has inspired me, and what I’m bringing back with me:

Tulane Urban Build- The project is delivered through the Tulane School of Architecture. It is an educational collaboration of students, the community and businesses, who are committed to building homes in New Orleans in an attempt to regenerate the city in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Students work with members of the community and construction firms and see their build through from start-to-finish, giving them an exceptional hands-on learning experience, as well as leaving the community better off as a result.

Paul Quinn College- Michael Sorrell, President of Paul Quinn College described his journey to us at Paul Quinn College, and explained how he has taken this historically black college located on 144 acres just south of downtown Dallas from the brink of financial ruin, to an institution that is at the heart of social change within an economically deprived community. Their New Tuition Model and We over Me Farm are just two ways that they are an inspiration to the HE sector.

Girl Trek- Morgan Dixon took us on her changemaking journey, which originated from her seeing a statistic that 4 in 5 black American women are overweight. She was initially concerned with her family’s well-being and set up a walking group for them. This naturally expanded to friends and eventually she was inspired to expand this project and launch nationally, with the aim to get 1,000,000 participants by 2018.

These three stories stood out for me for different reasons. The first was a great example of how courses can think outside-the-box to provide an exceptional learning experience for their students, as well as having a huge impact in their community. It would be great to see courses delivered in this way at Northampton. The second is inspiring. It showed me how HE institutions can rethink their overall purpose to have a better impact on the lives of their students, whilst combining that with adding significant benefit to the surrounding community. Girl Trek is a great example of how staff members at both the University and Students’ Union can support the smallest of ideas, nurture them and allow a student to grow them into something amazing in their own time.

Nick Petford, Vice Chancellor

The Presidents Track was another successful outing for Northampton. It is always odd being hived off from the main session programme but provides a great opportunity to meet with the three Ps, assorted presidents, provosts and principals (men in suits, basically) and find out how different universities are interpreting and operating changemaker activities. It is fair to say our University is regarded as a leader, and for good reason. The Changemaker Challenges set out in the new strategic plan generated excitement and a desire to find out more about the unique way Northampton is approaching its commitment to AshokaU. I was asked to talk to the group about this alongside Pamela Gillies from Glasgow Caledonian, the only other AshokaU member in the UK. Pam and I have plans for Glasgow and Northampton to work together on social innovation projects in Africa, more to follow on this shortly.

Grow Dat youth farm

On a trip to Tulane University we saw a project called Grow Dat youth farm where young people from disadvantaged backgrounds worked with Tulane students to develop leadership skills. I also met one of their benefactors, an amazing woman, Phyllis M Taylor, who had donated $50 million to fund a centre on social innovation and design. There is much to learn from design thinking as a way to help solve social problems, something I am keen to promote at Northampton as we implement the Changemaker Challenges.

Next year the event will be in Miami, hosted by Dean Pascale Charlot at Miami Dade Community College As ever we will be in attendance.

Sylvia Hughes, Deputy Chair University Board of Governors

I have been the Board Sponsor for Ashoka U since 2015 and I believe that this is an important direct link between Changemaker and the Board of Governors. In attending this year’s Ashoka U Exchange I was able to bask in the reflected glory of our outstanding teams and students who attend the Exchange and I am so proud of our contribution to this global event. I took part in the two day Presidents’ Experience which brought together 25 Vice Chancellors, Provosts and Governors representing 17 of 35 Changemaker Campuses and 3 different continents for a day of networking, inspiration and collaboration. We considered models and best practices for incorporating social values in pedagogy, research and student experience; the conversation was enhanced by the special guest social innovators, journalists and philanthropists. On the second day we discussed the work of senior leaders in transforming higher education and we shared best practice and next steps to support this growing network.

We visited the social enterprise project Grow Dat Youth Farm to see how students are working with local young people on an agricultural theme; this entailed growing salad to encourage it as part of the diet of young people as well as being a communal project. On enquiring why the lettuce was not eaten by rabbits our attention was drawn to the beady eyes of the alligators lurking in the nearby drain.

I gave a presentation on the final day to capture the opportunity to show how successfully the U of N has integrated the Changemaker philosophy holistically in the University. All Schools have Changemaker in the focus of their delivery; this is illustrated by how the University is working with partners on the four Changemaker Challenges of Education, Tourism, New Business and Health and Well Being in the pursuit of ‘Transforming Lives + Inspiring Change’.

Jane Murray school of education

Along with some of our wonderful students and colleagues from among the University Trustees, Professional Services and the School of Education, I was at the AshokaU Exchange at Tulane University, New Orleans, USA, 25th - 27th February 2016. The 2016 AshokaU Exchange was a space for higher education stakeholders to explore ways for ‘Everyone (to be) a Changemaker’, so the University of Northampton team was in familiar territory. 750 students, educators and social entrepreneurs met at the Exchange from across the globe, albeit primarily the USA, where AshokaU is now well established and thriving. A cosmopolitan city, New Orleans proved an excellent venue for the Exchange and during our stay, we had opportunities to explore the city by streetcar and on foot, watch paddle-steamers traversing the great Mississippi, listen to an eclectic range of live music and enjoy Creole and Cajun cuisine in the French Quarter.

New Orleans on foot
Spanish influenced architecture
Louisiana Paddle Steamer
Creole food, lots of it.

From Day One of the Exchange, it was evident that we were at a very special event. We were welcomed warmly by AshokaU Directors Beeta Ansari and Erin Krampertz, along with the President of Tulane University, Michael Fitts and we experienced a convivial atmosphere for the entire Exchange. On my first morning of the conference, I went on a site visit to the Bricolage Academy, a charter school built on democratic principles, where I observed learning and teaching, discussed the school’s philosophy and practice with the principal Josh Densen, experienced a kindergarten innovation class and was privileged to meet 6-year-old Jair who proudly showed me his school and his toy dinosaurs!

Bricolage Academy

That afternoon back at the Exchange, I attended a workshop focused on ‘Preparing K-12 Educators to Teach Changemaking Skills’ that featured a panel of US educators and social entrepreneurs who had generated changemaking in regard to teacher education. I was particularly impressed by the work of Ashoka Fellow Ellen Moir and her colleague Basho Mosko at the New Teacher Center which supports new teachers by linking them with personal expert mentors.

Conference Friday opened with a series of Changemakers sharing their projects, including ‘Anabel’s Grocery’ which reduces food poverty for students at Cornell University. The striking element about these Changemaker projects was their simplicity, yet they were all shortlisted for the 2016 Cordes – Ashoka U Innovation Award. Later that day I attended a European lunch where it was good to meet colleagues from AshokaU campuses in the UK, Poland and Italy and hear about their work as well as sharing our own. Plans were made to develop closer links by finding ways to work together in future.

On Friday afternoon, my colleague Dr David Preece and I sat on a panel for the session ‘K-12 Changemaker Education Partnerships’ at which we presented our research on the University of Northampton Changemaker Student Awards, developed by Jane Badger-Jones and the University of Northampton UCEE team. This session brought together NGOs, teachers, school leaders, higher education colleagues and students, as well as our own SoE Deputy Dean Peter Wells to consider how collaborative relationships between schools, universities and NGOs can transform lives. The measurement of Changemaker values and activity was high on the agenda for the whole 2016 Ashoka U Exchange and our research report highlighted challenges inherent in this aspiration, so stimulated discussion. We shall be writing up the work for a peer-reviewed journal.

The final day of the conference gave us an opportunity to visit Tulane University and it was a novel experience to be driven to the campus in US school buses. We sat in the University’s McAlister Auditorium to hear five excellent keynotes who are all leaders in their own Changemaker organisations. Among these, Michael Sorrell told us how Paul Quinn College dug up its football pitch so the students could grow their own food, Vishnu Swaminathan urged us all to make small, simple changes and Laura White told us of ways that her kindergarten children are Changemakers every day. Common to each of the Saturday keynotes was the empowering message that everyone can start now to bring about change for good

American style school buses
McAlister Auditorium

On Sunday I travelled home through the night with University of Northampton colleagues, arriving back at campus for 9am on Monday morning. It was an inspirational experience and a great privilege to meet colleagues who are changemaking across the globe. Yet equally valuable for me was the opportunity to spend time with some of our own students and to hear about the ways they approach changemaking and also to build even stronger connections with colleagues from across our own University to consider ways that we can meet our University of Northampton Changemaker Challenges. I found the AshokaU Exchange a highly valuable experience that has given me some excellent new connections and ideas to inform my work. As a teacher, teacher educator and educational researcher, my career has always been about inspiring positive change to enhance lives, yet the AshokaU Exchange brought into sharp focus the simple and important message that each one of us can start now to bring about change for good. That is a valuable 'take home' message'.

Beads hang from the trees after the Mardi Gras celebrations

Lianne Davies, BA Social & Community Development

I was honoured and delighted to be nominated to attend this year’s Ashoka U Exchange in New Orleans. Being a mature student and having only been at the University of Northampton for 6 months I was nervous about what to expect. I needn’t have worried – my fellow students and conference delegates could not have been more welcoming and we made the most of our time both in and out of the conference.

First of all, New Orleans is an impressive city. My only previous knowledge of the city was via A Streetcar Named Desire so the trolley stop right outside our hotel did not disappoint.

A streetcar named Desire

The nightlife was also everything I’d read about and more. Bourbon St. on a Saturday night in particular was an experience and a half (including people walking by with cats on their shoulders and people crawling on all fours for reasons not easily apparent). Ashoka U had arranged for the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra to play for us at the Jazz Market and I defy anyone, jazz-fan or not, to not be wowed by their skills.

Roger and Arte’s chess skills are another matter however…

As good as the nightlife was, that’s not the real reason why we went (honestly). I’m no stranger to conferences but have to say that this one was one of most [insert superlative here] I’ve attended. The level of atmosphere was electric (including the staff at the hotel who couldn’t seem to help but be swept up in the level of enthusiasm). Everywhere you went people seemed to be falling over themselves to talk about their social innovation, their project, their opinion on how we can change the world.

For those new to Changemaker, students at the University of Northampton are lucky enough to be attending one of only 3 EU universities awarded Changemaker status by AshokaU. That means we have a commitment to educating students not only in their chosen subjects but also in what it takes to change the world around us for the better. Everyone, no matter what their course, can take part in the Changemaker path and learn valuable entrepreneurial and advocacy skills (and perhaps be chosen to attend next year’s conference – as an additional incentive that will be held in Miami).

The Student Life Centre at Tulane University

The content and delivery of the conference was varied: from presentations highlighting the innovative work being done by Changemaker universities to workshops on how to engage the student voice to site visits to schools and community centres in New Orleans.

One of the most memorable sessions for me asked this question. How would you answer it?

The answers from other universities proved how well we are doing at the University of Northampton. We have so many ways of supporting our student leaders – we just need to shout louder about them and to encourage more students to become involved.

The final conference day was held at Tulane University: a beautiful campus on a beautiful day. Most exciting of all was our transportation to the campus – riding the yellow school bus can now be ticked off my bucket list.

This final day included talks from a range of speakers with some inspirational messages. Vishnu Swaminathan is a social entrepreneur affiliated with Ashoka India. He urged us not to plan for the future but act now: the future is now.

Michael Sorrell, the President of Paul Quinn College in Texas has a goal to create a new urban college model. That includes turning their school’s football field into the “We Over Me Farm”, an organic community garden which now supplies the Dallas Cowboys with fruit and veg (now contributing more to the NFL than the field ever did when it housed football players).

Laura White urged us to teach empathy along with maths and reading at early years and encourage changemaking in children.

These are all ordinary people making extraordinary contributions from small ideas. Take inspiration from them and decide what small changes you could make to change the world. Become a Changemaker. What’s the worst that could happen? A trip to Miami next year perhaps?

Arte Artemiou, BA Drama

Having been aware of the Changemaker module since my first year, I had no clue about the Changemaker module in my first year. Spending three days in New Orleans listening to stories and examples of ventures and businesses that have been created, I was awestruck. And excited. Here was a group of people who were finding new ways to address old issues, complex problems being worked out with creative thinking and compassionate ways.

I was especially inspired by all those who spoke of love and empathy. This seems to be a running theme amongst Changemakers: that knowing and understanding a person in a situation is integral to finding a solution. “The way an issue is defined can be the source of the problem” were some of the first words spoken on the first day and it very much seemed that this was echoed in the work of others. From a College President turning a football field into an organic farm to redesigning a developmental course assessment at a Community College to architecture graduates working with the community to solve social ills, these people are using their gifts and talents to change lives. There are too many stories to note in this short segment but the majority of what I heard and engaged with connected with a deeper part of me, the part that yearns for equality and equity. I genuinely feel like my eyes have been opened to the possibilities of change and what it is to be a Changemaker.

To go back to the College and President, their ideology is as follows: Poverty is evil. Debt is bad. Everyone can learn. WE can do better. Preach hope. Practice patience. Instil resilience. Teach entrepreneurial thought and action. Lead with love. An educational institute that aims to do all that exists! Obviously the day-to-day working out of those values will be messy, difficult, and sometimes undesirable but where’s the fun in ease? “WE over ME” they claim. Every student works 15-20 hours a week so there can be reduced tuition, 10% of produce is given away to the community and the rest sold, and students are given free books. “Stop seeing your community as a place to escape from but as a place to heal” - this sentence spoke to me the most. Being born and bred in Northampton I have seen friends and family leave for ‘better’ areas and work opportunities. Sometimes this is unavoidable but for years I have asked “Who will stay?” Who will be the ones to ground themselves and let their roots go deep, supporting the people in this town through their own gifts and talents, sacrificing self for the good of a community?

The architecture is unique

I feel full on hope, encouragement, and compassion. My brain feels like a soaked sponge, dripping inspiration from the ears. I feel challenged and compelled to be more involved, more aware and present. I am now part of a wider community of Changemakers and I am finding it difficult to turn away. I definitely feel idealistic but know I must temper it with realism. So what next?

“You don’t have to plan for the future – it is already here. We have to act now.” Now is the time to start building – or, more accurately, join those who are already building – within myself, my University, and my community. How that is worked out is going to be the interesting part.

Peter Wells, Deputy Dean


The Ashoka U Exchange in New Orleans (NOLA) was as ‘full on’ as last year but about 20 C warmer than Washington DC in February 2015! This meant that when ‘out and about’, and not ensconced in the cavernous, overly air-conditioned meeting rooms of the Sheraton Hotel, we were blessed with gentle Spring zephyrs and bathed in wall-to-wall sunshine.

My highlight, apart from stumbling (non-alcoholic!) across plenty of live music in the nearby French Quarter, was a visit to an Elementary Charter School, which was also an Ashoka Changemaker School. We arrived in an iconic yellow school bus to be greeted by a group of children energetically playing more live music as we entered the school gates. Once inside, if one acclimatised to the warm Louisiana accent and ignored the odd US spelling, this could have been any high quality English Primary School. I was particularly heartened by several instances where pupils were either being encouraged to teach each other or doing this as a normal part of their peer-to-peer interaction. This ‘pupil as teacher’ addition to the school’s approach to pedagogy was an excellent way in which the young people I spoke to and observed were becoming mini- Changemakers.

The morning of our departure I peered out of my twentieth floor eyrie at the Sheraton, which overlooked the mighty Mississippi, only to see a PO cruise ship heading for the Gulf of Mexico on its way back to Southampton. For a brief moment I thought of sprinting down Canal Street to jump aboard and take the long way home, but then the anticipated delights of a classic Southern breakfast in a local diner drew me back to reality!

Miami next year.........

I thought I was going to be writing diligently every evening throughout the AshokaU Social Innovation Exchange. Each evening I would sit down and explain my thoughts about the meetings, the workshops and the people I have met. I didn’t. Instead, I was at dinners, speaking to contacts and also overwhelmed by the detail of the conference that my brain just couldn’t keep up. So now is the time to make amends.


The best thing about the Exchange, for someone who has been in the field of social innovation education for a long time, was the lunch-time ‘curated’ meetings. AshokaU staff are very careful to notice connections or challenges that different campuses share and to connect us up in different configurations to enable us to move forward on those issues. One of the key ‘issues’ we have, as a UK campus, is the quite different ethos and strategic visions between the UK and America. Most US universities in the AshokaU campus network are liberal arts or research intensive universities. Liberal arts universities are usually training grounds for very privileged young people who have a lot of time on their hands and are not entirely focussed on getting a job, just yet. Research intensive universities are also not as focussed on the student experience as we might be. This leads to a certain disconnect for US campuses as they focus on service learning- students going out and helping people less privileged than themselves (often overseas) and on researching and inventing solutions. At UN our primary focus is to constantly innovate around the student experience, working on the primary issues of retention of students through to second year and on graduate employability. AshokaU has noticed this and connected us to universities like Miami Dade College and Arizona State University and who have 165,000 and 83,000 (respectively) students like ours, or Central Queensland University with 22 campuses all over Australia to look after- all with students like ours. This opened up a very interesting conversation around the role and contribution of social innovation and Changemaker skills for students who are the less privileged ones, who are the first generation to go to university, who work throughout their studies in order to live, who have to cope with complex family lives and responsibilities throughout their time at university and still are expected to contribute positively to society. No tidy solutions were presented at the lunch-time, but at least there is now a group of similar universities collaborating to tackle these challenges.

The Opening Session of the 2016 AshokaU Exchange
Design thinking workshop in the Phyllis Taylor Centre

The other thing AshokaU do at the Exchange is mix their networks up. The Exchange isn’t just about educators- founders of huge philanthropic ventures rub shoulders with students, and academics from all round the world bump into senior leaders of universities. Our own Student Union leader David Lewis was introduced to David Bornstein, New York Times columnist and author, and in the meantime Phyllis Taylor was quietly sitting at the back of a workshop on design thinking in the very same building that she donated $15million to Tulane University to build. When asked who she was, she just said ‘oh, I’m just a community member’. Serendipity only works if you are there, and open to it. All the people at the Exchange are really friendly and open to new contacts. I met with colleagues from Poland, Italy and Ireland, all open to developing a European centre for social innovation in education, that’s if we remain part of the EU!

The locations of the Exchanges are decided and announced at the Exchange the previous year. They are always hosted by a Changemaker campus, although the challenge of finding a hotel big enough for 700+ delegates is no mean feat! The Exchange has been at San Diego, where our selection was announced in 2013. Then it was at Brown University, an Ivy League university in Providence Rhode Island, and last year at the University of Maryland, Washington DC. This year was in the beautiful New Orleans and next year in Miami Dade County. Miami Dade were stalking our Changemaker teams before they became a Changemaker Campus, and we met with them a number of times (mostly on skype) transferring our experience and expertise. They have the unenviable job of persuading their 165,000 students to make their communities a better place, but think of the impact of hundreds of thousands little initiatives every year created by their students.

All photographs and text courtesy of Dr Jane Murray, Dr David Preece, Professor Nick Petford, Peter Wells, Roger Weston, Rev Timothy Curtis, Arte Artemiou, Lianne Davies and David Lewis. All rights reserved. 2016

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