Three Questions for a Social Innovation Leader, with Ed Frechette


At UTEC, youth hone skills in workforce development.

This fall, in partnership with the United Way, BCSSW’s Center for Social Innovation launched a Speaker Series held at a shared space in Boston’s Seaport, an area now known as the city’s Innovation District. The series has been designed to bring together BCSSW field supervisors with MSW students in a forum where they can hear from innovative nonprofit practitioners, and then share what they’ve learned with each other in real time.

The Series’ first speaker was Ed Frechette, Chief Innovation Officer at UTEC, a Lowell-based organization whose mission is to “ignite and nurture the ambition of proven-risk youth to trade violence and poverty for social and economic success.” (Learn more about UTEC’s programs various programs).

Frechette, who spent more than 30 years working in marketing and the restaurant business before turning to his passion to serve disconnected youth, spoke on “how to connect the dots when some of the dots don’t exist yet.” Following his conversation with BCSSW students and faculty, he sat down with Innovate for the latest installment of the blog’s ongoing feature Three Questions for a Leader.

What does it mean to be a ‘social innovator’ in 2016?

utec2Ed Frechette: Social innovation is about going beyond the obvious to identify new solutions to problems and opportunities, and then persevering so those solutions can become real. An example is getting an organization, driven by controlling expenses, to spend more for mattress recycling instead of disposal because of the social good. It means pulling thinking and approaches from different fields and applying them to your issues to look at possible situations from completely new and different viewpoints. It also means being able to track information so you can learn what works and what doesn’t quickly and then make the appropriate adjustments.

Tell us about the most important lesson you’ve learned as a leader in your field.  

EF: Be flexible and open to the possibility that the next best idea may come to you from where you would least expect it. At the same time, ensure you are staying within your mission. Great ideas are like honey. They are hard to resist even when they may not fit with your needs or goals.

utec3What recommendations do you have for those who aspire to be leaders in social innovation in the future?

EF: Stay true to your idea and don’t give up. No one has more passion for your idea than you do so no one will have to work harder to make it real than you. Keep your eye on the prize but be open to learning how things might get done differently than you might have initially thought. There are many paths to the top of the mountain. Just make sure everyone is looking at the same mountain so when they talk about alternative paths, you know they are still headed to the right outcome.

“Three Questions for a Leader” is a recurring column at Innovate, designed to share some of the knowledge imparted to the Boston College community with social work professionals beyond our campus walls. This semester, the feature focuses on social innovators. 

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