Service and Social Innovation

Service and Social Innovation 

So, you want to make a difference in the world.  You’ve come to the right place!  

Do you want to volunteer in the community, apply for a service learning work-study position, or participate in a social innovation challenge? Maybe you are interested in taking a community-based learning class, securing a social justice oriented internship, or leading an alternative break service project. Perhaps you’d like to join an advocacy-focused student group, coordinate a political rally, or participate in the Iowa Caucuses. Whatever your interest, your Center for Careers, Life, and Service advisers are here to help you identify a personalized array of experiences that will equip you with the skills and insights necessary to explore the civic aspect of your career.  

The programs and advising the CLS offers are guided by the following values and principles: 

Service and Social Innovation Values 

  • Community-Driven Collaborative Partnerships: Service and social innovation partnerships should be characterized by mutual trust and respect. In order to guard against service and social innovation becoming colonialism in the guise of serving the common good, relationships should be subject-subject.*   

  • Diversity & Inclusion: Service and social innovation endeavors inevitably entail cross-cultural experiences. Successful endeavors acknowledge the power dynamics at play, and honor the strengths and voices that each participant brings to the table. Power in collaborative service relationships should be balanced in favor of the community and the traditionally oppressed.​ 

  • Reciprocity: Service and social innovation endeavors do not only benefit the community. Each participant both gives and receives. Every effort should be made to develop relationships where all parties honor each other's needs while also assessing the equity of how each party is both giving and receiving. 

  • Sustainability: Service and social innovation endeavors should be contextually responsive, well researched, fiscally responsible, and aim toward respectful, sustainable positive change. Every effort should be made to understand the larger social, economic, and environmental consequences of proposals and projects, and should not only focus on short-term solutions, but also on longer-term, systemic change. 

Service and Social Innovation Principles of Partnership 

  1. Partnerships form to serve a specific purpose, and may take on new goals over time. 

  1. Partners actively strive to understand each other's needs and self-interests, and develop a common language. 

  1. The partnership builds upon identified strengths and assets, but also works to address needs and increase capacity or growth of all partners. 

  1. The partnership seeks to balance power and share resources among partners. 

  1. All partners have input in establishing clearly articulated principles and processes for the partnership. 

  1. Partners seek to agree upon a mission, values, goals, measurable outcomes, and accountability for their partnership. 

  1. There is feedback among all stakeholders in the partnership, with the goal of continuously improving the partnership and its outcomes. 

  1. Partners share the benefits of the partnership's accomplishments. 

  1. Partnerships can dissolve, and may need to plan a process for closure. 

Additional information about Service and Social Innovation is available on GrinnellShare (secure login required).  


*Subject-subject relationships recognize each member of a partnership as a subject literally and figuratively. Historically in service and social innovation relationships, the one serving or innovating has been the subject, or the primary actor who acts upon the served, the needy, the object. Moreover, the service provider assumes the power to define the problem as well as the solution. When those serving then implement their solution upon the community served, the service relationship becomes colonial: The served lose their right to self-determination. Within a subject-subject philosophy of service, relationships are mutual and collaborative. Both parties are self-determining actors driving and defining the action, and power is intentionally balanced in favor of the community or the traditionally oppressed. Only if we deliberately pay attention to our subject-object biases in service may we change our assumptions and processes such that mutuality is valued, colonialism is avoided, and self-determination is preserved. ​ 

Department Information

(641) 269-4508

1127 Park Street
Grinnell, IA 50112-1670
United States