The Center for Social Development is a hub for implementing and testing applied social innovations that broaden well-being for individuals, families and communities. We incubate ideas that can be scaled to reach millions, and we create new fields of study to meet social needs. We also train emerging scholars and practitioners in the effective conduct of engaged social-science research.

Our Mission

The Center for Social Development’s mission is to create and study innovations in policy and practices that enable individuals, families and communities to formulate and achieve life goals, and contribute to the economy and society. Through innovation, research and policy development, CSD creates intellectual and applied contributions in social development theory, evidence and policy.

What We Stand For

We embrace the promise of a fully inclusive society in which empirically grounded policy structures enable all to secure the requisites of well-being. We also embrace the principles of rigorous, independent applied social research, which aims to deepen scientific knowledge but is squarely focused on translating results into action.

Our People

Led by Founding Director Michael Sherraden, Research Director Jin Huang, and Research Director Shenyang Guo, we are an engaged and internationally diverse team of researchers, practitioners and policy experts. We also are educators, nurturing the emerging contributions of students from around the globe.

An Acknowledgment

The Center for Social Development in the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis occupies the ancestral, traditional, and contemporary lands of the Osage Nation, Missouria, Illinois Confederacy, and many other tribes, as the custodians of the land where we reside, occupy, and call home. We recognize that their sovereignty was never ceded after unjust removal and encourage everyone to undertake research on tribal removal, tribal sovereignty, and the history of the land where they reside. We promote the inclusion of tribal history and the incorporation of contemporary thoughts and actions into our work. In offering this land acknowledgement, we affirm and support tribal sovereignty, history, and experiences by elders past, present, and seven generations yet to come through their continued connection to this land.

Our Work

We employ critical inquiry and applied multi-method research to test scalable policy and practice innovations that have the potential to expand opportunities for marginalized families and communities. Internationally recognized for contributions to financial inclusion and asset-based social policy, we seek to advance a just and inclusive society through interdisciplinary engagement in seven areas of impact. We collaborate with our sister centers in Singapore and South Africa as well as with other strategic partners around the globe. We are deeply engaged in the collaborative efforts to address the Grand Challenges for Social Work.

Our History

In 1991, Michael Sherraden’s groundbreaking book, Assets and the Poor: A New American Welfare Policy, proposed a new approach to developing strong families and communities: asset-based policy.

“Instead of focusing welfare policy on income and consumption,” Sherraden wrote, “we should focus more on savings, investment, and asset accumulation.” Sherraden realized that families can develop fully if they have a stake in the system—assets to meet needs and make investments for the future. He also understood that this new approach required new policy structures.

Shanti Khinduka, then the dean of the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University, recognized the potential of these ideas to reshape thinking. He invited Sherraden to serve as director of a new center dedicated to research on asset building and social development. Sherraden founded the Center for Social Development (CSD) in 1994.

In 2016, CSD established the Shanti Khinduka Social Work Research Fellowship for Social Innovation. This annual $10,000 fellowship supports a Brown School faculty member conducting applied research on a policy or practice innovation.

An incubator of solutions, CSD continues to foster new lines of inquiry, developing applied social innovations that are grounded in empirically based evidence and directly applicable to real-world priorities.

We invite you to join us in the work of building a just, inclusive and sustainable future.