Student organizations rise to the SOCIAL Challenge

Weeks Bridge over the Charles RIver.

The Weeks Bridge over the Charles River. Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer.

3 min read

A competitive challenge grant program is inspiring student organizations to take action in far-reaching ways, from elevating climate action through a student storytelling symposium to helping unhoused people obtain access to government identification.

The Harvard College SOCIAL Challenge provides funding to student organizations pursuing collaborative socially impactful projects.  The SOCIAL Challenge supports solution-focused service projects, activities that promote social well-being, innovative and scalable social ventures, and community-building activities (including co-sponsoring conferences and workshops).   SOCIAL is an acronym for Students Organizing, Catalyzing, Impacting, Advocating, Leading.

In the application process, student teams are asked to highlight how their work can meet a community need at a greater scale.  Students submit videos highlighting their work, which then are shared through Harvard social media channels.  The goal is to incentivize impactful work and use social media to generate visibility for great ideas.

One new initiative called “Our Climate Change Stories” serves as a campus-wide platform for environmental activists to share stories about resilience and justice to motivate the Harvard community to collectively take climate action.  Harvard Square Homeless Shelter launched the IDID (I Deserve ID) campaign to help unhoused people obtain access to identification, a critical step to finding employment and securing help for long-term shelter.  The Harvard Undergraduate Black Health Advocates received sponsorship to organize the Black Health Matters Conference, which brings an interdisciplinary focus on wellness and social well-being in communities that have been historically marginalized.

Improving visibility and access to resources is a common theme among grantees.  Act on a Dream is receiving funding to develop a conference to bring attention to humanitarian issues and immigrant needs.  CovEducation is expanding workshops to make free virtual tutoring available to more than 6,000 K-12 students.  Active Minds is working to bring campus visibility to mental health through a series of workshops and public events.  This work has also enabled the TEDxHarvard College chapter to reorganize a series of talks on campus  to inspire students to create a more just, fair, and promising world.

A total of 23 grants were issued to student organizations in the first cycle.  The next grant cycle will open in Summer 2023.  Student organizations must be recognized by Harvard College, be affiliated with a Harvard department, or in partnership with a 501(c)3 charitable organization to be eligible to apply. 

The SOCIAL Challenge is sponsored by John Simon ’84, co-founder of GreenLight Fund, a national network of experts from the public sector, private sector, and philanthropy working together to scale innovative, results-driven, mission-driven programs for the public good.

For more information about the Harvard College SOCIAL Challenge, visit