“Social innovation is special,” said Jeff Snell, a ’96 alumnus. “Education is one of those rare gifts to the human journey where we better ourselves through shared knowledge. (Social innovation is) applying that knowledge to our own human conditions for the bettering of lives around the world. It draws in the student (to see) there are solutions.”
The contributions Snell made to Marquette in his tenure are numerous. Founder of the Social Innovation Initiative, Snell was let go from Marquette as part of university budget cuts Feb. 24. Snell’s bold leadership, tireless passion and unwavering commitment to Marquette had an incredible impact on students, faculty, the Milwaukee community and beyond.
“Snell is the single person most responsible for the regional and national recognition that Marquette’s SII has received the past few years,” said John Pauly, professor of journalism and media studies and former provost. “He understood how social innovation could offer a fresh, compelling way to enact Marquette’s Jesuit mission across all our colleges.”
Hired as special advisor to then-University President the Rev. Robert A. Wild in 2007, Snell launched the Social Innovation Initiative in early 2010 in conjunction with the Office of the Provost.
“Social entrepreneurship made me realize we can do more,” said Laura Malandra, a ’13 College of Communication alumna. “It allowed me to look at the world (through) a different lens and showed me I don’t have to sacrifice social responsibility for my career aspirations.”
After creating SII, Snell forged a partnership with Ashoka: Innovators for the Public, the largest global organization for social entrepreneurs. Marquette became one of the first 10 universities dubbed an “AshokaU ChangeMaker Campus,” joining a select group of premiere universities paving the way in social entrepreneurship education, including Duke University and Arizona State University.
Soon after, student interest grew and coalesced as the ChangeMakersMU student group. Snell served as faculty advisor and further engaged students by designing and teaching Marquette’s first courses solely dedicated to social entrepreneurship.
“I think it’s safe for me to say that Jeff is the best instructor I have ever had,” said Shivani Chokshi, a freshman in the College of Arts & Sciences. Chokshi took Snell’s honors seminar, “How to Change the World,” in the fall.
“Jeff shaped my perspective on what is to come in the future and showed me every person can make a difference,” she said.
Snell brought five esteemed social entrepreneurs to campus as part of the Social Entrepreneur in Residence program and developed the annual Social Innovation Design Contest.
“I thought this contest provided a good venue to encourage students to be creative and to think outside the box, which is a lifelong skill,” said Kathy Rehbein, associate professor of management in the College of Business Administration. “I know that my classes, my students and I have all benefited from the passion that Jeff brought to the job. He has been a key resource for business education.”
Snell’s work reached far into the community. He developed the Brady Corp-Marquette partnership for the Midwest Social Innovation Start-Up Challenge, modeled after the Dell Social Innovation Challenge and Champions for Change, which recognizes Marquette social entrepreneurs at men’s basketball games. He also formed the faculty Social Innovation Research and Practitioners Group; the Social Innovation Leadership Experience for nonprofit executives; and FixesU.org, a Marquette-New York Times partnership funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
“Jeff has been a guiding light for everyone who is interested in social innovation locally and nationally,” said Deanna Singh, executive director of the Burke Foundation in Milwaukee. “His integrity, leadership and passion are unparalleled. He has elevated the conversation about social innovation in the city and generations of people will benefit as a result.”
SII will continue without Snell and is in the hands of future students, faculty and administrators.
“I hope Marquette continues to support the tremendous opportunity it has to transform the lives of students with the Social Innovation Initiative,” said Annie Richmond, a ’12 aluma of the College of Business Administration. “I hope it maintains its reputation as a forerunner in social innovation and truly puts into practice what it means to ‘be the difference.’”
Elise Chapman, College of Business Administration ’12, is the project manager for the Marquette Social Innovation Initiative. Allison Glaubke, College of Business Administration ’12, was a founding member of ChangeMakersMU and is currently a site coordinator and AmeriCorps member at LIFT-Chicago, a nonprofit organization working to lift people out of poverty for good.