Student Group Stirs Interest in Social Innovation

By Rebecca Goldfine
Through the week of October 22, Moana Gregori ’26 and a team of students introduced the campus to many innovative yet sensible solutions to common problems.

On Monday, Gregori and her team filled Smith Union with the "Solutions Exhibition," which mainly consisted of a colorful display of posters, each one presenting an organization that had come up with a unique approach to seemingly intractable issues.

Perhaps high rents are making it hard for young people to find housing in your city? (A widespread issue.) Try "moving in with Grandma" or any elderly person who has space and could use help around the house, recommends an Austrian nonprofit called Wohnbuddy. Wohnbuddy facilities low-cost living arrangements between generations, helping retirees find suitable roommates. 

Friendship Bench, a concept started in Zimbabwe, designates a bench in a public area as a place people suffering from mental distress can receive free help from a counselor. Liter of Light, from the Philippines, has come up with a way to provide affordable solar light to people with limited or no access to electricity. 

Social Innovation week poster
The poster for Social Innovation week. Gregori defines social innovation as "an initiative that solves any problem that affects a community."

Another organization featured in the display, La Cloche (or, The Chime), originally from France, links shopkeepers who are willing to offer free services to unhoused people. Store owners receive a sticker for their front windows specifying what they can provide, whether it be water, a bathroom, or some food. "It is very simple; it can be replicated," Gregori said, referring to one of the reasons she organized Social Innovation Week at Bowdoin in the first place.

Gregori learned about the concept of sharing socially innovative ideas from an organization called Snowball Effect, a nonprofit founded in Paris, France. Snowball Effect spreads the word about nonprofits that have devised creative approaches to a range of problems found most everywhere, like food waste, unemployment, and pollution.

The team behind Social Innovation Week
The team behind Social Innovation Week: l-r, Charlotte Tagupa ’26, Celeste Mercier ’26, Moana Gregori ’26, Sunny Das ’27, and Liliana Lines ’24.

When she was interning in her home country of Austria this summer, Gregori viewed a similar Snowball Effect exhibition, marveling at the many ingenious ways people had come up with to help others. "I thought it would be impactful to bring the exhibition to Bowdoin, because students could also walk through and get ideas for capacity-building within organizations or to solve problems in their communities. They would see what is possible," she said.

"I think there are a lot of answers out there, and we can build on answers that are already working. You don’t have to put time and energy into reinventing the wheel," she added.

She recruited a team of students to help her: Charlotte Tagupa ’26, Celeste Mercier ’26, Moana Gregori ’26, Sunny Das ’27, and Liliana Lines ’24.

Lines said she got behind the project because she believes in its core values of "inspiring others to implement working solutions and highlighting the work of nonprofits." 

With support from the McKeen Center, Gregori bought a license from Snowball Effect to stage its poster display at Bowdoin—the first time the exhibition, which has been held across Africa and Europe, has taken place on the American continent.

She also made the event unique to the College by highlighting Bowdoin students who have come up with creative projects of their own. They include Tej Dhingra ’25, who designed TAJ, a breathable turban for Sikh athletes; Libby Riggs ’26, who launched Perceptions International, a platform to amplify the voices of disabled children through the arts; Eisa Rafat ’25, who started a US chapter of a nonprofit that uses solar technology to filter water; Naomi Lopez ’26, who created a high school sustainability guide to empower students to enact environmental policies at their schools; Ruth Olujobi ’25, who has a wellness podcast that makes healthy living seem more attainable and less daunting; and Alexis Mullen ’23, who started an earth-based spirituality gathering to connect people with nature.

"There are already a lot of Bowdoin students doing amazing stuff and that is also my goal: to create a community of people who want to create change," Gregori said. Lines agreed: "My favorite part of the week was chatting with the students who had posters in the exhibition because they are passionate about their projects and deserve recognition."

Sarah Seames, McKeen Center director, said the Center was thrilled when Gregori approached them with her proposal. “While everything the McKeen Center does is student-led in some capacity, a lot of students don’t know that we can offer support for things they’d like to see or do that engage with the idea of the ‘common good’ but doesn’t necessarily fit within the structures of our existing programming," she said.

"Moana and the Social Innovation team had a clear vision of what they wanted to bring to campus and worked tirelessly to make it happen, which made it that much more special to see come together,” she added.

Following the Solutions Exhibition, the event organizers invited students to a related workshop to learn more about the organizations included in the display. The week also offered a movie night and what Gregori hopes will become a monthly occurrence—an "Impact Fire" at the Bowdoin Outing Club. 

"The thing that was most important to me was the fire night at the BOC, which was organized to create community for people who want to make a difference," she said. "We talked openly about what we're doing and what challenges we're facing and created a space for collaborations."

The student club Bowdoin Consulting Group, in conjunction with the week's activities, also ran a social innovation case competition, challenging members to brainstorm creative solutions for an environmental issue facing a hypothetical business. After panelists presented a case, students had an hour to develop and pitch their solution. The activity, the club’s leaders hoped, showcased how private enterprises can also have an important role in making social impact.

After she evaluates data she collected from the event, Gregori said she will consider staging Social Innovation Week again next year.