The Phyllis M. Taylor Center for Social Innovation and Design Thinking cultivates a diverse network of Changemakers who are working and learning together to create a more just and equitable society.

Where we are

Founded in 2014, Taylor coalesces the Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship (SISE) minor and co-curricular offerings in social innovation, social entrepreneurship, and design thinking, providing a platform for transdisciplinary, creative thought and action in our campus, local, and global communities.

The center’s design thinking framework establishes a deeply human-centered, iterative and experimental approach to addressing social and environmental challenges that engages experts, non-experts, and the users of proposed solutions. Drawing on design thinking, the Taylor Center connects scientific research, academic scholarship, innovative teaching, and lived experiences. Taylor aims to help cultivate mindsets, discover new learning, and diffuse social innovations in an inquisitive, persistent, and humble manner that brings value to the world.

Since gaining strategic philanthropic funding in 2009 to develop a university-wide program in social entrepreneurship, we have worked to integrate different areas of creative, solution-oriented activities across the entire campus. From the launch of the NewDay speaker series, the Changemaker Institute, endowed Professors in Social Entrepreneurship, undergraduate curriculum, and other programs, a variety of departments and centers have worked together to ensure that we are realizing Tulane’s vision to represent the best of the modern research university, anticipating and meeting national and societal needs at the dawn of the 21st century and beyond.


Tulane University is recognized as a pioneer in social innovation education. This was made possible through the generosity of our visionary donors:

  • Cari and Michael J. Sacks, The Sacks Family Foundation, and the Louisiana Board of Regents for supporting the academic agenda through the Sacks Endowed Distinguished Chair in Civic Engagement and Social Entrepreneurship in 2009;
  • The NewDay Foundation, supporting the co-curricular programs through the NewDay Speaker Series and NewDay Challenge in 2009;
  • Support for the Endowed Professorships in Social Entrepreneurship, including:
    • Kylene and Bradley Beers
    • Carnegie Corporation of New York
    • Solon R. Cole, M.D.
    • Jill H. and Avram A. Glazer
    • Alyssa and Clifford Greenberg
    • Christopher M. James and The James Family Foundation in honor of Paul Tudor Jones II
    • Louisiana Board of Regents
    • The NewDay Foundation
    • Louise and Leonard Riggio and The Riggio Foundation
  • Phyllis M. Taylor and the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation, launching the Tulane Grand Challenges in 2011 and the Phyllis M. Taylor Center for Social Innovation and Design Thinking in 2014
  • Victor C. Alvarez and the Alvarez Educational Foundation, supporting student social ventures through establishing the Alvarez Spark Innovation Endowed Fund in 2013

Where we want to go

“The goal is to move Tulane to the forefront of universities engaged in solving social problems, and to do so with humility, recognizing that the best ideas often arise from the collective wisdom of the community and not always from the theoretical musings of experts.” – Phyllis Taylor at the Ashoka U Exchange, February, 2015


With the establishment of the Taylor Center, we aim to continue to infuse systems thinking, human-centered design, and social innovation mindsets across the Tulane campus. We have a unique opportunity to treat our whole campus as a learning laboratory and to use social innovation and design thinking toolkits to transform higher education. We hope to re-establish why the college experience matters.

We have established a strong track record with undergraduate education and are working to expand opportunities for research, faculty, and graduate and professional students to engage with our work. We hope to grow the SISE Minor, better utilize learning outcomes and assessment, and explore immersion experiences both domestically and globally. We are excited to inject a stronger research focus within the Taylor Center, which will provide opportunities to involve more faculty from across campus.

We see ways to re-imagine our relationship with community partners. Grow Dat Youth Farm represents one partnership model we hope to adapt and replicate: GDYF is a long-time service-learning partner at the undergraduate level and site for graduate student work and research. We aim to develop deep, mutually beneficial relationships with socially innovative organizations. This follows a pattern of diffusing boundaries between the university and the community and continuously learning from the collective wisdom of community partnerships.

Within our own walls, we welcome students, staff, and faculty with unique identities, life experiences, academic disciplines, and social impact aspirations that are representative of New Orleans and our diverse world. We are undergoing a strategic planning process and exploring emerging opportunities to better cultivate and support innovative thought leaders in our local and global community.


In 2009, Stephanie Barksdale was hired by President Scott Cowen as a special assistant to establish a university-wide speaker series and funding competition in social entrepreneurship, and Tulane University established an endowed chair in civic engagement and social entrepreneurship. Visionary donors, Michael Sacks and Stan & Dana Day, launched these programs through their generous gifts. Tulane was also selected as an Ashoka U Changemaker Campus in 2009. Co-curricular programming grew quickly from 2009-2011, focused primarily on serving undergraduate students. During this time. Dr. Rick Aubry was appointed as Assistant Provost for Social Entrepreneurship and Civic Engagement. He was instrumental in establishing several endowed Professors in Social Entrepreneurship and the Tulane Grand Challenge.

Social entrepreneurship and social innovation were further institutionalized through the establishment of a social innovation (SI) core of programs in the Tulane Center for Engaged Learning and Teaching (CELT) in 2010. In 2012, Tulane launched one of the first university-wide undergraduate minors in Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship in the United States within the Tulane School of Architecture. Our interdisciplinary SISE minor is open to any undergraduate student on campus. Tulane was also one of the first universities to teach human-centered design to undergraduate students outside a traditional design program and open to all students.

In 2014, a generous endowment provided by Phyllis M. Taylor allowed Tulane to establish the Taylor Center for Social Innovation and Design Thinking as an institutional home for our work. To lead our new center, Kenneth Schwartz was appointed as founding director and Sacks Endowed Distinguished Chair in Civic Engagement and Social Entrepreneurship.

In 2015, the social innovation activities in the Center for Engaged Learning and Teaching (CELT-SI) merged with the Taylor Center, consolidating within one university-wide center our curricular and co-curricular offerings in social innovation, social entrepreneurship, and design thinking. The original SISE program has thus grown into a powerful, intertwined strategy spanning academic opportunities, faculty scholarship and research, student-led activities, and community partnerships.