We are excited to embrace the transformative power of creative ideas and collaborative approaches in addressing global challenges. As part of the McDonnell Academy Global Research Symposium, esteemed scholars and change-makers come together to explore innovative strategies that drive positive social change. From grassroots initiatives to large-scale transformations, we uncover how social innovation can reshape our world for the better.

Key Takeaways

Shanti Parikh: “Diseases are so creative; they have no boundaries. Why does our work occur in silos?” Social innovation is about how to “disrupt the categories we have created” (gender, geography, etc.).Michal Grinstein Weiss: Israel has one of the highest levels of income inequality compared to other OECD countries. To address this, WashU researchers introduced the idea of Child Development Accounts (CDAs) for every child in Israel to advance long-term asset-building and child development. A new policy has been implemented in Israel since 2017 through the establishment of a universal CDA program called Saving for Every Child Program.
Li Zou: “All children—especially the poor and vulnerable—must have a financial footing to reach their potential.” The Center for Social Development’s vision is for every newborn child on the planet to start life with a Child Development Account and an initial deposit. Penina Acayo Laker: Mental health services sub-Saharan Africa are severely underequipped. To address this gap, it is important to create interventions that are culturally relevant and that communities are invested in.
Mitra Naseh: Turkey is host to the world’s largest refugee population. There is a growing need for mental health services among refugees, with approximately 23% of child and adolescent refugees and 31% of adult refugees living with PTSD.Kim Thuy Seelinger: Covid-19 public health measures impacted access to and delivery of support services for victims of intimate partner violence, but there were differences and nuances in these impacts across countries.
Social Innovation

The Highlights

In this plenary, change-makers from different fields came together to explore social innovation strategies that drive positive change and reach those with the greatest need—from creating economic opportunity to providing mental health services. 

Two presentations focused on the idea of Child Development Accounts (CDAs), a concept developed by Michael Sherraden, the George Warren Brown Distinguished University Professor and founding director of WashU’s Center for Social Development (CSD), in his seminal book, Assets and the Poor, which has influenced asset-based policies and programs in the U.S. and many other countries. 

Building on this body of work, Michal Grinstein-Weiss, Shanti K. Khinduka Distinguished Professor at the Brown School and her colleagues at the Social Policy Institute (SPI), are collaborating with partners in Israel and the U.S. to advance evidence-based interventions and shape policy. SPI Senior Advisor, Ray Boshara, and Dr. Aviv Gaon, senior lecturer at Reichman University, shared lessons from applying these policies both domestically and internationally. Additionally, Grinstein-Weiss highlighted the impact of the seed grant-funded project, which enabled the team to conduct timely research in Israel on the socio-economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, generating data from six waves of surveys that informed policy at the Knesset.

Li Zou, international director of WashU’s Center for Social Development (CSD) and Jin Huang, professor of social work at Saint Louis University, presented their ongoing research in collaboration with Suo Deng, CSD faculty director from Peking University, highlighting how asset-building programs and proposals vary across Asia and the U.S. Zou noted that, ideally, CDAs should be universal, automatic, progressive, potentially lifelong, and purposeful (for education, housing, and long-term security). Currently, the top six countries with CDAs are the U.K., U.S., Israel, Canada, Singapore and South Korea, collectively accounting for approximately 20 million accounts.

Three additional presentations focused on providing support for vulnerable groups and addressing gaps in mental health services. The first study, “Say No to Stigma,” is a cross-disciplinary collaboration between Dr. Penina Acayo Laker in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, Dr. Ozge Sensoy Bahar in the Brown School, and Dr. Noeline Nakasujja at Makerere University. Their seed-grant funded project has led to the creation of new, age-appropriate, culturally relevant visuals and messaging around mental health and stigma to be used in Uganda’s primary schools.

Mitra Naseh, assistant professor in the Brown School, Yasemin Sohtorik İlkmen, assistant professor of psychology at Boğaziçi University, and Ceren Acartürk, associate professor in clinical psychology at Koc University, drew attention to the high prevalence of mental health problems among forcibly displaced people and their limited access to culturally responsive interventions. To address this growing need among Afghan refugees in Turkey, they are developing a protocol for virtual delivery of mental health services, using a community-informed strategy. 

Early in the pandemic, the UN Secretary General voiced concern about the global serge in domestic violence. To investigate this problem, Kim Thuy Seelinger, research associate professor in the Brown School, connected with collaborators Ana Pamela Eguiguren Bravo at the University of Chile and Zahara Nampewo at Makerere University in Uganda. Together, they set out to collect data on changes in the rates of intimate partner violence and the factors driving them in three different cities: St. Louis, Santiago, and Kampala. Though the team struggled with interpreting the data because during the pandemic “service itself was restricted so numbers were not reliable,” they were still able to identify some commonalities and differences in what was happening in each of the three countries.

Friday, October 6, 2023

Hillman Hall, Danforth Campus

Plenary SessionSocial InnovationLocation
12:15 – 1:30pmLunchHolmes Lounge
1:30 – 4:00pm
Shanti Parikh, Arts & Sciences, Washington University in St. Louis


Say No to Stigma: Pilot testing the impact of visuals designed to reduce mental health stigma among primary school students in Uganda
Ozge Sensoy Behar, Penina Acayo Laker and Proscovia Nabunya
Washington University in St. Louis

Child Development Accounts: Policy Innovation from the U.S. to Israel
Michal Grinstein-Weiss
and Ray Boshara, Washington University in St. Louis

Developing a protocol for virtual delivery of a transdiagnostic mental health intervention among Afghan refugees and asylum seekers in Turkey
Mitra Naseh, Washington University in St. Louis
Yasemin Sohtorik İlkmen, Bogazici University
Ceren Acartürk, Koc University

Determining relationships between COVID-19 and intimate partner violence: A mixed methods study in St. Louis, Uganda, and Chile
Kim Thuy Seelinger
, Washington University in St. Louis
Pamela Ana Eguiguren Bravo, University of Chile

Child Development Accounts: Social Innovation for Global Impact
Li Zou
, Washington University in St. Louis
Jin Huang, St. Louis University

Clark-Fox Forum
4:00- 4:05pmClosing Remarks
Laura Benoist, Director, McDonnell International Scholars Academy
Clark-Fox Forum