Andrew Benedict-Nelson

Andrew Benedict-Nelson is a founder and managing director of GreenHouse. Drawing upon his background as an historian and journalist, he has since 2011 worked with his colleagues to deepen his understanding of social norms and social change across a wide variety of sectors. As an Innovator-in-Residence at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, he has played a key role deploying these ideas in the education of future advocates for the greater good. In particular, he has worked to integrate insights into the social determinants of health into the education of health care professionals through the development of the first advanced practice nursing program in a school of social work, which launched in 2016. A writer and editor, his work has appeared in the LA Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement, and other venues.

Social health

hplussThere is now widespread agreement that social determinants – factors like race, class and zip code – have greater influence on our health than does our biology. But the health care system has been slow to evolve, leaving providers ill-equipped to help patients and others in need.

GreenHouse has jumped into the void, developing the publication Health Plus Social to explore social determinants and the implications for the training of health care professionals. The publication is part of our efforts as Innovator in Residence to give shape to the new graduate nursing program at the University of Southern California, the first such program housed in a school of social work.

“The basic reason for the neglect of social determinants in health care is that the system is primarily set up to treat acute, biomedical problems,” wrote the report’s editor, Andrew Benedict-Nelson. “Substantial work remains if we hope to translate our understanding of social determinants into practical, specific protocols for care on the individual or community level.”

Challenges like this are now being tackled in inter-professional collaborations, such as one GreenHouse helped launch in summer 2016.

Land of the sick

When people are diagnosed with an acute disease, they enter a new world, one with unwritten rules they do not understand. At the same time as they are trying to heal, they suffer physical and psychological harm because of their inability to navigate the hidden social conflicts of being a patient.

GreenHouse took on this issue through a year-long study of a disease where these conflicts are particularly severe: ovarian cancer. Working with the Susan Poorman Blackie Foundation, we determined that ovarian cancer patients face eight fundamental social conflicts, including everything from learning and decision-making styles to how to handle their changing roles in their families.

Finally, at a symposium with patient advocates and other health care leaders, we envisioned a way to foreground the conflicts patients will experience, designing a new model to give them the social support they will need from day one.

GreenHouse was enlisted in this project by Buck Dodson, SPB’s president and executive director. The effort is part of our portfolio of work furthering the translation of social determinants of health into improvements in the health care system. Our portfolio also includes our publication Health Plus Social and the graduate nursing program at the University of Southern California’s Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work.

Focus for good


If focused, entrepreneurs can be a singular force for good. We have provided that focus for the first two years of a gathering called 10.10.10, at which 10 successful entrepreneurs come together for 10 days to start companies that address 10 profound social challenges.

“Ultimately the effect of this gathering is to make business more humane,” Andrew Benedict-Nelson said in an interview. “Specifically, it makes it more humane in relation to matters of sickness and life and death.”

In the first two years, 10.10.10 challenges have run the gamut – from toxic stress and childhood obesity to antibiotic resistance and health information security.

We were enlisted in this effort by Tom Higley, 10.10.10’s founder and a collaborator with us on our work on venture democracy. We launch the annual ten-day gathering with training in our original framework for social innovation.

Open questions

There is a troubling disconnect between social innovation theory and practice. In response, GreenHouse is developing the first-ever casebook for social innovation practitioners – leveraging the pedagogy currently used by universities to train professionals in law, medicine and business. We’re drawing on the best aspects of this tradition but making a crucial change: the problems we’re tackling will not be closed cases, but open questions facing society.

The casebook will be predicated on the social norms approach to social innovation, and will include in-depth exploration of innovation related to 15 social challenges, including mental health, childhood obesity, sexual assault, animal maltreatment, decarceration, foster care, refugees, disaster preparedness, homelessness, social isolation, and access to the legal system.

The casebook will be introduced at the University of Southern California, in the nation’s first doctorate in social innovation.

Jane 2.0

In 1919, when Jane Addams won the Nobel Peace Prize, social good was a relatively narrow domain – populated largely by progressive clergy and women like Jane, who were the forerunners of the modern field of social work. Today, nearly a century later, social good has exploded into virtually sector, industry and profession.

We’re out to determine where it’s going and how best to train professionals to lead it. In partnership with the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, we are engaging experts from around the world – in domains as diverse as technology, design and international movement-building – and connecting them to educators, who will grow the next generation of social good leaders.

This project is part of our efforts as Innovator in Residence, which includes development of a Master’s fellowship in social innovation and the nation’s first doctorate in social innovation – both at USC.

Hope restored


Genocide museums – like those in Rwanda, Germany and Washington, DC – are extraordinarily important institutions, ensuring that the atrocities they chronicle are never forgotten. But the museums are not terribly effective at enlisting volunteers in preventing future atrocities.

That’s because the institutions follow a proven, predictable path: introduce visitors to horrific events through facts, artifacts and stories, which leave them smarter but shaken. We discovered a new path: by re-introducing hope and humanity within the museum experience, the institution allows visitors to recover their emotional balance and imagine themselves joining the fight.

The research was part of our UX for Good initiative, in which GreenHouse and Jason Ulaszek invite a dozen top user experience designers from around the world to join us in resolving a complex social challenge. The initiative produced the Inzovu Curve, a model that has guided modifications in Rwanda and helped designers map the emotional impact of institutions around the world.

UX for Good was launched in 2011, has worked at the behest of The GRAMMY Foundation and the Dalai Lama Center for Peace + Education, and has won the user experience design industry’s top award.

Scale for impact

In the 20th century, the signs of an influential organization were obvious: more offices, more members, more dollars, more everything. But in our times, some of the most influential organizations are those that make the biggest impact with the smallest number of people – be it a digital startup or a terror cell.

This idea is called “scale for impact.” It animated a discussion Andrew Benedict-Nelson chaired at the Ashoka Future Forum. Flipping the usual format, he asked the assembled social entrepreneurs what decisions they had made to increase their impact without growing in size.

“The ability to generate demand for your mission is key to successful scaling, and generating demand requires new structures, new thinking and new networks,” Ashoka’s Avani Patel reported in Forbes after the event. “In a world where everyone can—and must—be a changemaker, we must be willing to constantly adapt our models, avoid repetition, and find partners in unlikely places.”

This wasn’t the only time we took on this problem with Ashoka; we also worked with their team to ask how we might scale up empathy in schools.

More broadly and more assertively

In 2014, GreenHouse was enlisted to be the first-ever Innovator in Residence at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work – the first-ever in a school of social work, the first ever in the social sciences and one of only a handful in any field in the U.S.

Here’s why we agreed: society desperately needs social workers. More precisely, society needs the kind of things social workers know about social context and human systems applied more broadly and more assertively.

The challenge was that social workers were ill-prepared to play that larger role. Overcoming the challenge required a culture change — in the field and in its professional education.

So far, so good. Recruited for this role by Dean Marilyn Flynn, our partnership with the school has been highly productive. Together, we have developed and launched the first-ever doctorate in social innovation, the first graduate program in nursing within a school of social work, and an award-winning masters fellowship in social innovation.