Christine M. Beckman will take the helm as director of the Price Center for Social Innovation, a decade-old research center that explores novel policy and organizational approaches to complex social problems. Her appointment will be official on July 1, 2023, but Beckman is already mapping out her new role.
Beckman, a professor at the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy since 2018, has served as the associate director of the center and is the Price Family Chair in Social Innovation. She’s a leading voice in the realm of social innovation, a relatively new term describing practices that aim to meet social needs better than traditional solutions.
“It’s exciting to think about this next iteration of the Price Center,” Beckman said. “I come with a very strong research background. I’m interested in academic scholarship, thinking about social innovation as an academic field, building that up and doing that in a way that can inform [policy] practice.”
Under her leadership, the center will seek to raise the academic profile of social innovation and position the USC Price School as the home for that study. Beckman plans to focus on research that explores nuances of social innovation, as well as host seminars, organize academic conferences and bring in visiting scholars in the social innovation space.
“Along with the faculty, staff and students at the USC Price School, I congratulate Christine Beckman on her appointment. As the Price Center for Social Innovation enters its second decade, Professor Beckman will explore new ways to bring organizations together to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation to advance our school’s mission,” said Dana Goldman, dean and C. Erwin and Ione L. Piper Chair of the USC Price School.
The term “social innovation” likely first emerged in the 1960s, and experts still debate its proper definition. In a forthcoming paper reviewing the field of social innovation, Beckman and her colleagues defined it as “a novel process or product that intends to generate more effective and just solutions to address complex social problems for collective gain.”
It’s similar to how companies create and launch products through research and development. Unlike traditional policy approaches, which typically implement solutions at scale and evaluate them later, policymakers using social innovation may test, iterate and engage stakeholders during a pilot phase before scaling them.
One example is USC Price Associate Professor Emma Aguila’s work with the City of El Monte, Calif., to introduce a Guaranteed Basic Income Program (GBI) for low-income residents. The program will provide a $500 monthly payment for 12 months to single-mother households with children under 18 years old. Aguila is working with colleagues to assess the impacts of the policy, which has been proposed by presidential candidates in the U.S. and around the world.
The Price Center was launched in 2011 when Price Philanthropies donated $50 million to name the USC Price School.
“I am pleased that Christine Beckman will take the helm of the Price Center for Social Innovation,” said Robert Price, president of Price Philanthropies. “Her appointment will carry on my father’s commitment to urban revitalization through collaborative social policies.”
Over the past decade, the Price Center has made considerable advances in social innovation scholarship and has fostered transformational partnerships with organizations and networks across Southern California that apply social innovation approaches in their work. This scholarship has provided important insights into the use of Social Impact Bonds in furthering social innovation to working with community stakeholders on solutions.
In addition, the Price Center used social innovation processes and models to develop projects serving low-income urban communities. Highlights include the Homelessness Policy Research Institute (HPRI), a collaborative of over 100 researchers, policymakers, service providers and experts with lived experience of homelessness that accelerate equitable and culturally informed solutions to homelessness. HPRI is helmed by USC Price School Professor Gary Painter and Managing Director Saba Mwine.
In 2017, the Price Center launched Neighborhood Data for Social Change, an initiative that uses neighborhood-level data, storytelling and other partnership-based services with local organizations to advocate for a better quality of life in their communities.
This suite of community-centered work will continue outside the Price Center, which is pivoting to focus more broadly on social innovation processes and theory.
“They’ve created some really important structures that are grown up enough essentially to be on their own,” Beckman said.
Given social innovation’s ties to the private sector, one of Beckman’s goals is to build tighter connections between the USC Price School and Marshall School of Business. Cross-sector collaborations are important to social innovation practices, as are social entrepreneurship and corporate social activities, she noted.
And Beckman is well positioned to strengthen those ties. She’s a former business school professor at the University of Maryland and University of California, and at Maryland she was academic director for the Center for Social Value Creation. She is known for her research on organizational learning, interorganizational networks, inequality, innovation and entrepreneurship.
“The goal is to increase our understanding and knowledge of what social innovation is and the conditions that foster social innovation and encourage its implementation,” Beckman said. “Social innovation is something that spans problems. It’s about processes. It’s about tools. It’s about organization, and it’s about mobilizing change towards solving social problems.”
Price Family Chair in Social Innovation
Director, Price Center for Social Innovation