Price Center launches new executive education certificate program in social innovation

January 17, 2018

By Matthew Kredell

The USC Price Center for Social Innovation has launched a new executive education program – the Southern California Symposium – that will challenge local leaders to think deeply and collaboratively about the region’s future to develop long-term solutions for complex social problems.

Upon successful completion of the program, students will receive an Executive Education Certificate, Social Innovation. This is the first certificate offered directly by the Center, which supports undergraduate and graduate-level education in the Price School.

Professor Gary Painter

“As a research center, we want to be able to support education across the career ladder in social innovation,” said USC Price Professor and Price Center Director Gary Painter. “The missing component in the career ladder is executive education. People will come to this program to learn a new set of approaches to addressing and solving some of the longstanding, intractable social problems of our time.”

Twenty-five participants will be selected from public service, politics, business, the arts, philanthropy and NGOs to create a cohort representing a variety of interests. There is no set minimum requirement for work or educational experience, and people looking to make a transition from successful careers in different sectors are encouraged to apply.

Students will learn three cross-cutting approaches in the broad field of social innovation – social entrepreneurship, social movements and collective social impact – as they relate to specific challenges in Southern California around the subject matter themes of health, economy, built environment and immigration.

The structure and curriculum for the program were developed by Painter, Symposium director Roberto Suro, who holds a joint appointment at USC Price and the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and David Morse, a senior visiting fellow at USC who will serve as director of studies for the spring 2018 Symposium.

Professor Roberto Suro

Suro conducted more than 20 interviews with leaders in the region and commissioned a study of comparable programs to get an idea of the landscape.

“There’s no real preconception of this being specifically for mid-career, early career or late-career types, or an age range or level of education,” Suro said. “The main attribute we’re looking for in perspective students is people willing to commit themselves to a long and in-depth conversation on a set of issues relating to the region’s future.”

The Symposium is set to be held at USC over four weekend sessions – midday Friday through Saturday afternoon – from February to May. Each session will feature interaction with a nationally recognized NGO leader or advocate. Participants can expect intimate exchanges with panels of local policy makers, and learning sessions with prominent scholars on housing, transportation, economic development and health care.

Spacing out the program over short monthly sessions is intended not only to cause minimal disruption to the work and home lives of participants, but to allow them time to ruminate on what they’ve heard. The Symposium is intended to be interactive, with students bringing in the issues they are grappling with in their civic and professional lives for collaboration in the search for solutions.

“I’m not aware of anything that looks like what we’re doing,” Painter said. “I think we’re unique in terms of the level of comprehensive approach to executive education and social innovation that spans a five-month period to allow people to walk through and think about the problems they’re facing.”

Between sessions, students’ engagement and learning will continue online. Working in small groups, students will undertake case studies with hands-on instruction from USC faculty. Each faculty coach will meet in person with his or her team between the first and second weekend sessions, with possible additional meetings over the course of the program depending on group preferences.

Resulting from these team efforts will be projects taking on specific policy challenges to be presented at a fifth session in June, an evening event that will cap off the program.

“We’ll try to make sure each person is working on something that relates to their work but also takes them beyond the boundaries of their own experience and training,” Morse said.

A focus on Southern California – a place where there are many challenges, opportunities and supportive efforts to reduce disparities in housing, health care, economic and educational opportunity – is an integral part of the Symposium.

“The region is ripe for new solutions that apply social-innovation approaches,” Morse said.

Cohort building will be another important element, with the small groups providing students opportunities to get to know each other and faculty. As participants move forward with their certificates and future cohorts follow, the Price Center hopes to build a network that can make the collective impact required to solve complex social problems.

“I am excited to build a program of change agents who will go back into the field and approach social problems in a way they haven’t before, thinking outside of boxes and trainings to apply social-innovation approaches, identify from where ideas emerge, and scale and link those ideas to practice,” Painter said. “Ultimately, we’re hoping to catalyze a more rapid discovery of the kinds of ideas and practices likely to lead to sustained social change.”

Applications are being accepted through Feb. 1 with the inaugural Symposium set to begin Feb. 23. Information on how to apply is available at The fee for the program is $5,000 and tuition reduction is available.

Related faculty

  • Gary Dean Painter

    Gary Dean Painter

    Chair of the Department of Public Policy and Director of the Sol Price Center for Social Innovation
    Director, USC Sol Price Center for Social Innovation, Director, Homelessness Policy Research Institute