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Social Impact Labs

What is a Social Impact Lab?

The world’s biggest social problems are complex and urgent.  No company or organization can solve issues like economic inequality or poverty alone. We need leaders with different perspectives, skills, and experiences to come together to create fresh insights, ideas, and action to make progress. Social Impact Labs are becoming an effective way to bring together expertise from academic, government agencies, school districts, police departments, community-based advocacy organizations, and the private sector to:

  • Deepen understanding of a concrete, real-world problem;

  • Generate hypotheses about key causes of the problem;

  • Design and test potential solutions;

  • Capture and share insights about what works and what doesn’t; and

  • Identify opportunities to adapt and expand promising approaches.

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How does 5A do Social Impact Labs?

5A has recognized a need for this kind of collaborative solution-oriented incubator that connects young leaders in the Pittsburgh urban area with private sector professionals, educators, and subject matter experts to form teams focused on connecting research to practical solutions, shaping new policies, programs, practices, campaigns, or creating products that can improve people’s lives and opportunities. 5A’s Social Impact Lab is an experiential learning space generating positive impact locally through sustainable business concepts and social initiatives. Our program provides leadership and design thinking education programs, social impact training, experiential learning possibilities and networking opportunities with industry professionals. The combination of lab workshops and team activities will provide participants the chance to practice and apply social impact design while making a difference in their local community.


Together, teams will be working towards co-creating a workable prototype based on their specific project needs. The final product that teams work towards range from service blueprints, physical products, tech or digital assets. They research, ideate, design, build and test ideas in response to a specific design challenge at first, then later may have the opportunity to turn their real-world solution into a real-world business. Projects may be focused on issues of environmental justice, covid-19 and health disparities in communities of color, white supremacy and racial injustice, poverty, or violence. We generate and test ideas against the lenses of desirability, viability, and feasibility and engage in a process of iterative innovation.


Social Impact Lab activities include:

  • Design Challenges: formal lab events to familiarize participants with design tools and principles as well as the scope of the design challenge. Achieving key milestones to keep teams on track as they craft a thoughtful response inspired by the challenge by the end of the lab.

  • ​Ongoing Accelerator: self-guided activities where teams put what they learned into practice building a business, initiative, campaign, or movement.

  • Internships: partner organizations host student interns at their workplace.​

  • Design Fellowship: nonprofit organizations host a competitively selected student for a paid work experience focused around a specific research initiative or project designed to amplify or accelerate their work.


In addition to financial capital provided by corporate and foundation partners, we equip all of our problem-focused teams with training, thought-partnership, mentoring, physical space, communications support and advice, and other tools and resources so they can turn their evidence and experience into purposeful work that benefits society. These teams work together on social problems they choose and where practical progress is possible. With our support, they can rapidly develop, test, and scale new solutions to social problems that positively affect our community. With financial capital, professional support, and training, we can catalyze problem-focused research and partnerships to generate new insights and solutions to persistent social problems.

Confident Woman

​Who can participate?


Students of all ages are welcome to attend a Design Challenge and learn the basics of design thinking as well as network with volunteers and partners. Students ages 16-19 are welcome to apply for the Accelerator program, Internships, and Fellowships.


5A teaches critical thinking, ethical reasoning, and social justice to cultivate values, skills, and attributes essential to ethical and effective social change making. These include: Civic Mindedness, Problem-solving, Patience, Personal Responsibility, Introspection, Empathy, Humility, Respect, Active Listening, Strategic Thinking, Planning, Time Management, Communication, Negotiation, Organization, Collaboration/Teamwork, and Decision-making.


What you will do:

  • learn the skills and attributes you need to engage in ethical and effective social change making and entrepreneurship

  • classroom-based learning and hands-on community engagement in today’s most urgent social challenges

  • how to research and create ethical solutions to real world problems

Professionals & Partner Organizations

Project partners may include private sector companies, social enterprises, emerging social entrepreneurs, collaborative associations, local organizations or governmental bodies, or traditional non-profits. 5A partners with professionals as team members and mentors who are interested in social impact design or interested in applying their professional skills to help solve some really big problems.


​Not only does this provide networking opportunities for our professional members, but it also gives them a chance to meet and work with young people who will become the future leaders of Pittsburgh. Our corporate partners have opportunities to host student interns and to potentially invest in student start-ups and accelerate promising approaches to intractable social issues. 5A is also piloting a new Design Fellowship which is an experiential training program that offers outstanding students with social impact ideas, learning opportunities and professional work experience with the goal of generating new research insights and amplifying the capacity of Pittsburgh nonprofit organizations.


What you will do:

  • learn through hands-on community engagement about today’s most urgent social challenges

  • use your professional skills to help create ethical solutions in collaboration with established and emerging community leaders

  • host interns or fellows at your organization

  • mentor young people, foster innovation and creativity, and support their development