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From demanding change to making it

To solve today’s systemic public problems, we must push beyond the status quo.


The challenges societies face today cannot be solved with yesterday’s toolkit. The Burnes Center advances real-world impact by teaching individuals and institutions the skills needed to design and implement innovative and equitable solutions to our hardest problems. In the process, we are building a new field of social impact that leverages data, technology and community wisdom and the power of institutions to enable systems-level change in practice.


Change-makers are made, not born.

Everyone has the potential and the power to become a successful problem solver.

We cannot solve tomorrow’s challenges with yesterday’s tools.

Innovative technologies, policies, and partnerships are required for systems-level change.

How you Implementation matters.

Solving problems in practice requires going beyond innovative ideas to implementation of equitable solutions that measurably improve people’s lives.

The future depends upon all of us.

Tackling systemic public problems demands that we work closely with communities from day one.


About the Burnes family

The Center is named in recognition of the generous investment made by the Burnes Family: Nonnie and Richard Burnes, and their three children, who have championed many social causes.

Nonnie Burnes, who passed away in August 2021, leaves behind a remarkable legacy defined by her selfless commitment to making real change in her communities and around the world. A 1978 Northeastern School of Law alumna, Nonnie pursued equality and justice, and was passionate about empowering others. She was a leader in the Massachusetts legal community and left a legacy of championing women’s rights and liberties. She upheld and advocated  these ambitious values while serving on Northeastern’s Board of Trustees and as a senior university fellow at the university’s School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs.   

For all who were fortunate enough to know her, Nonnie Burnes was a pure joy; a person of unequaled spirit, courage, and grace, with a passion for helping others that defined her every undertaking.




Teaching and learning the skills of social change and impact


Building the emerging field of global social change and impact


Connecting communities of mission-driven leaders


Leading implementation of innovative solutions in key areas, including education equity, strengthening democracy and reducing gun violence


Solving Public Problems

Our free foundational course providing the skills to design and implement social change.

  • Tools and technologies for designing and implementing mission-driven projects
  • Ways to use Big Data and community wisdom to tackle problems  
  • How to combine subject matter expertise and problem-solving skills
  • An introduction to leading social and public innovators

(Northeastern students only)


As a university-wide center, we look for new opportunities to collaborate with others engaged in social-impact work.

About our director

Beth Simone Noveck is the director at the Burnes Center for Social Change and a professor with joint appointments in Northeastern’s School of Law; the College of Social Science and Humanities; the College of Arts, Media and Design; and the College of Engineering. She also oversees a partner project, the Governance Lab.

Previously, Noveck served in the White House as the first United States deputy chief technology officer and director of the White House Open Government Initiative under President Barack Obama. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron appointed her senior advisor for open government and Chancellor Angela Merkel appointed her to her Digital Council. She also currently serves as New Jersey’s first chief innovation officer.

For more about her publications and activities, read Beth’s full bio.


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