Rebecca Riccio: SAIL helps students become change agents

Director of the Social Impact Lab at Northeastern

As the director of Northeastern’s Social Impact Lab, Rebecca Riccio helps students become agents of positive social change. That’s why SAIL and its five dimensions of learning resonated with her instantly.

Viewing ‘soft skills’ as a part of Northeastern’s teaching mandate isn’t just valid. It’s ethically imperative.

From her long experience in managing international human-service programs, Riccio understands the importance of skills like perspective taking and cultural agility. She used them every day at SatelLife, a global nonprofit based in Watertown, Massachusetts, that developed electronic means of delivering information to health professionals in low-income countries.

After coming to Northeastern to create a human-services workshop and course, she founded its Social Impact Lab. The lab empowers aspiring “social change agents” to think, work, and collaborate across sectors and disciplines to benefit their communities, she says.

“SAIL has emboldened me to emphasize skills, competencies, and attributes like comfort with ambiguity, empathy, and humility in an academically rigorous course,” Riccio says. “Viewing ‘soft skills’ as a part of Northeastern’s teaching mandate isn’t just valid. It’s ethically imperative.”

Today, Riccio’s course and syllabus explicitly invite students to focus on honing skills like negotiating, and traits like respect and civic-mindedness. As students learn to effect change through philanthropy, awarding grants to nonprofits, they describe their insights in terms of SAIL’s five dimensions. Meanwhile, Riccio says SAIL holds her accountable to giving them not just knowledge, but the “experiences and reflection time” they’ll need to persevere as lifelong citizen-leaders and change agents fighting for social and economic justice, a sustainable planet, and the well-being of all.