Using Small Groups to Find Big Solutions

Solving global problems might seem daunting, but the Ballard Center for Economic Self-Reliance is stepping up to the challenge by providing a way to help experts create breakthroughs in specific fields.

Through the Ballard Center's S+Labs, social innovators are connected with various groups to find innovative solutions to problems within their field. These facilitated brainstorm sessions differ from typical conferences because significant results emerge and are carried into action.

"People go to events like TEDx and leave with brimming ideas," says Logan Theodore, S+Lab assistant co-creator and social project consultant. "An S+Lab is a space where those ideas can convert to solutions through collaboration with an intimate group."

The S+Labs revolve around working together to overcome societal problems. Social innovators and various groups teach, share and learn from one another.

"We call them S+Labs because the word ‘lab' is in labor, in collaboration, in laboratory — in a lot of words that help describe these events. The ‘S' is really about the social aspect of what we're working on," says Todd Manwaring, managing director of the Ballard Center. "These labs can come in all different flavors, and each lab invites a different audience to the workshop-like atmosphere."

The Brigham Young University community was recently invited to participate in S+Labs that occurred on campus. The labs undertook problems in different fields such as local entrepreneurship, solutions journalism and humanitarian nonprofit organizations focused on education.

One S+Lab thought leader was journalist and author David Bornstein, founder of, a website that encourages budding journalists to report on social innovation. The fitting audience of communication and film students was invited to learn about solutions journalism — an approach of reporting solutions to social problems.

"There's an unseen, undiscovered continent of social innovation out there," Bornstein says. "You should look beyond the view of the reality you get from the media. Because if you're interested in solving social problems and building a better world, there are good things for you to invest your life in."

The idea of S+Labs evolved from the Ballard Center's previous discussion groups called action labs. Although the name and details have changed, S+Labs can still claim an impressive track record as the idea has grown significantly in the past several years. In addition to hosting labs on BYU's campus, the Ballard Center hosted S+Labs in Washington, D.C., and at Stanford University. Manwaring hopes not only to expand to other cities but to also hold more S+Labs at BYU.

"Our main purpose is to put on great experiences for students, so we want to increase the number of labs," Manwaring says. "Our students would be part of this great group focusing on their discipline and their skill set."

The Marriott School is located at Brigham Young University, the largest privately owned, church-sponsored university in the United States. The school has nationally recognized programs in accounting, business management, public management, information systems and entrepreneurship. The school's mission is to prepare men and women of faith, character and professional ability for positions of leadership throughout the world. Approximately 3,000 students are enrolled in the Marriott School's graduate and undergraduate programs.

Media Contact: Chad Little (801) 422-1512
Writer: Miriam Shumway