Brown is known for its passionate, independent, and socially-minded students—that’s been evident in portrayals of the university everywhere from the nightly news to “The O.C.” (one step onto College Hill and a party girl was transformed into an environmental activist). With all these do-gooders in one place, where does creativity fit in?

As it turns out, creativity is increasingly being recognized as a piece of the social impact puzzle. From the Social Innovation Initiative to Design for America, students are working to imagine, design, and implement creative solutions to social problems. Many Brown students are intentionally immersing themselves in iterative, experimental processes in order to hone their abilities to design and deliver new products, programs, and methods for doing good beyond Brown’s boundaries. Particularly as students collaborate across disciplines and learn from each other’s creative practices, they both engage with Brown’s educational ethos and carry real potential to improve lives.

An environment like Brown is in many ways an ideal place to work on creative approaches to social good—it’s a laboratory that promotes not just creativity, but also the critical thinking and thoughtful analysis rooted in the university’s liberal learning goals.

This environment can provide vital context. While designing innovative products can do good, it’s also crucial to consider the roles of “ traditional” tools like public policy and advocacy, as well as the networks of access and inequality in which these products operate. The current environment in the social sector sometimes skews toward the belief that innovation is inherently positive, but being innovative for innovation’s sake can have unintended (and sometimes destructive) consequences.

A place like Brown allows for a holistic approach to social good—one that unites creativity with critical thinking. This is already happening across campus, with students using their studies to inform their work and professors providing guidance to ambitious young minds. Brown can only benefit from expanded integration of the creative and critical elements of social good. With its huge base of creative approaches and its historic commitment to liberal learning, this university has the potential to serve as a powerful incubator.