Center for Transformative Action

Educational programs that further the practice & understanding of social entrepreneurship & transformative action.

CTA offers educational programs for its projects, community members and Cornell students. We teach undergraduate courses in social entrepreneurship at Cornell, organize the Finger Lakes Social Entrepreneurship Institute, a 3-day program that takes place on campus and in our community, and regularly offer workshops in compassionate communication, nonprofit management, social entrepreneurship, and transformative action. CTA’s executive director, Anke Wessels, also leads Cornell’s relationship with Ashoka U, an international network of universities that provide leadership in the field of social innovation education and research. In 2016, CTA’s model as a nonprofit incubator of social entrepreneurs affiliated with a major university was recognized by the Ashoka U Cordes Innovation Award as a high impact and highly replicable innovation in social entrepreneurship education.

Finger Lakes Social Entrepreneurship Institute

The 2017 Finger Lakes Social Entrepreneurship Institute took place November 10-12th at Cornell University and the Greater Ithaca Activities Center in Ithaca, NY.

The institute features tools essential to the success of a social venture, keynote talks, presentations by inspiring and innovative social entrepreneurs, one-on-one coaching, and field trips to local social ventures. The institute supports new and experienced social entrepreneurs with valuable knowledge, training, and a community of like-minded individuals who are committed to creating economies that are ecologically sound and socially just.

We were excited to host keynot speaker Matthew Stinchcomb, VP at (one of a very small number of publicly traded b-corps) and Founder/Executive Director of the Good Work Institute in the Hudson Valley. The title of his talk was “Less Bad Isn’t Good Enough: Doing the Good Work to Build a Regenerative Future.

Esteban Kelly, the Executive Director of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives gave a plenary presentation on Saturday morning at the Greater Ithaca Activities Center (GIAC) entitled “Creating Economies that Work for Everyone,” as well as a workshop on the Worker Cooperative model. On Saturday afternoon, Megan Odenthal, a practitioner in community based systems thinking from the Social Systems Design Lab at Washington University, offered a plenary as well as a workshop on how to use systems tools to unlock community transformation.

Featured Models and Tools:

Worker-Owned Cooperatives: Worker cooperatives are business entities that are owned and controlled by their members, the people who work in them. All cooperatives operate in accordance with the Cooperative Principles and Values. The two central characteristics of worker cooperatives are: (1) worker-members invest in and own the business together, and it distributes surplus to them and (2) decision-making is democratic, adhering to the general principle of one member-one vote.

Community Based Systems Dynamics: Community based system dynamics can help people frame problems, visualize the system, identify potential leverage points, develop skills for communicating system insights, analyze policies, and ultimately design more effective and sustainable solutions. ​​

Theory of Change: The theory of change model focuses on the social change you intend to achieve. This model maps out the activities that will help you reach your impact goals, the ways to measure success, and how to strengthen what is working and reconsider what isn’t.


This event would not have been possible without the generous support of our co-sponsors: Entrepreneurship at Cornell, the Engaged Leadership Program at Cornell’s Office of Engagement Initiatives and the Park Foundation.

Social Entrepreneurship at Cornell

Since 2008, we have been teaching courses in social entrepreneurship in Cornell’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management and leading Cornell’s involvement in the Ashoka U network of changemaker campuses. In 2011, our course “Social Entrepreneurs, Innovators, and Problem Solvers” was recognized as one of the top ten most rigorous and innovative in its field by Ashoka U, a global association of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs. In 2016, CTA and Cornell were honored with the nationally recognized Cordes Innovation Award for our innovative, replicable and proven model as a university-affiliated incubator of nonprofit social entrepreneurs. In 2017, we began teaching a course to support students involved in the running of Anabel’s Grocery, a student-founded and student-led CTA project. This course uses systems thinking to frame students’ understanding the system that producing campus food insecurity and to help them understand Anabel’s Grocery, the venture, as a system. Here are a few comments from students:

“Learning about systems thinking has opened my mind! It gives me a whole new understanding of how problems arise and how to understand effective interventions without blaming people. “

“I’ve also been transformed by having vocabulary for the way Systems Thinking, Theory of Change and Ripple Effects work. I think I already had a mindset that tended towards thinking about things connected and holistically. But to realize that there are full theories and strategies that line up with my way of thinking about the worlds has made me so much more thoughtful and aware of the interconnections and influences in everything I do.”

“I have enjoyed reading the habits of a systems thinker because I find that they apply to entrepreneurship, but also to how we live our lives day-to-day. I think living by these habits can be really beneficial on a personal level, too.”

To view a network map of the social entrepreneurship and social innovation space at Cornell, follow this link.

Compassionate Communication

Compassionate Communication strengthens our ability to listen and speak in ways that increase understanding, trust, and connection. It shows us how to translate criticism, judgment, and blame into life serving messages. It gives us concrete skills for resolving conflicts and healing relationships. While fostering empathy and respect, Compassionate Communication creates a desire to have everyone’s needs matter, moving us away from patterns of domination to partnership.

We offer classes, workshops, and coaching in which you learn to:

  • Speak authentically and in a way that can be easily heard and understood by others
  • Increase your understanding and compassion for yourself and others
  • Use practical skills to communicate without criticism, blame, or painful misunderstandings while sharing what matters to you
  • Experience the power of empathy to liberate natural compassion
  • Defuse heated situations before they lead to conversations that may be regretted
  • Prevent and resolve conflicts by increasing understanding, trust, and mutual respect
  • Promote both inner and world peace

About Judy Burrill:

Compassionate Communication trainer and coach, Judy Burrill, has completed the Center for Nonviolent Communication’s Parent Peer Leadership Program, a part of the Peaceful Families, Peaceful World Project. She has also completed hundreds of hours of NVC trainings, has led numerous classes, workshops, and practice groups, and has been a mediator since 2006. You can read more at the website Compassionate Communication in Ithaca.

Contact Judy for more information at 607-255-5027.

CTA and Cornell University

The Center for Transformative Action is an independent 501(c)3 affiliated with Cornell University. As an affiliate, our center plays a unique role by offering courses and programs to Cornell University and serving as an incubator for innovative nonprofit social ventures on campus, in our community and across New York State.

Since 2008, we have been teaching courses in social entrepreneurship at the university and leading Cornell’s involvement in the Ashoka U network of changemaker campuses.

CTA began as the Center for Religion, Ethics and Social Policy in 1971 to house the social justice efforts that emerged from Cornell United Religious Work in the 1960’s. In 2006, we re-focused our vision to deal with a polarized global society and brought transformative action to the forefront of our efforts, changing our name to reflect our new vision. In 2011, we expanded our fiscal sponsorship offerings to include projects from across New York State.

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