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Center for Social Solutions

The Center for Social Solutions (CSS) promotes academic research and social policy that serves the common good in four areas: the power of diversity, the connection of our history to our present, fair access to water, and the future of work. By connecting rigorous scholarship from the University of Michigan and other universities to the world, we offer concrete, tangible solutions to real problems, promote the common good, and strengthen our national community.


We showcase research and foster collaborations that diagnose and solve critical social problems that impede the fulfillment of a prosperous democratic society within the United States and beyond. While much of the modern debate focuses on the identification of the "right" problems, we recognize the common thread between each problem and acknowledge that to address one issue is to address, in some way, all of them.

In that spirit, our four founding initiatives—diversity, the impact of slavery, equitable water access, and the future of work—approach different aspects of the equality necessary to advance society. The center will start with small-scale solutions produced through interdisciplinary partnerships that can act as scalable and reproducible prototypes. These collaborations will offer a roadmap for addressing more complex challenges, and help us to move beyond domain-specific knowledge and perspectives to encourage new approaches.


The idea for the Center for Social Solutions started while its founder, Dr. Earl Lewis, was serving as president of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. In 2014 Dr. Lewis began the Our Compelling Interests presidential initiative, which aimed to sponsor and publicize research on the value of diversity in a wide range of social, economic, cultural, and educational contexts. This developed into an eponymous book series edited by Dr. Lewis and Dr. Nancy Cantor, the chancellor of Rutgers University-Newark, that published its first volume in September 2016 and its second in September 2017. During this time, Dr. Lewis' interest in promoting the importance of diversity led him to greater reflections on the prerequisites for a successful democracy, and how many of them face structural obstacles that prevent the United States and other nations from achieving true democratic equitability.

In February 2018, the official announcement was made that the Center for Social Solutions would be founded at the University of Michigan and directed by Dr. Lewis. The first members of its staff officially took up residence on campus in July 2018 and began to develop the center's four key initiatives—Diversity and Democracy; Slavery and Its Aftermath; Water, Equity and Security; and The Future of Work—in addition to continuing the Our Compelling Interests series as part of the center's diversity initiative. Some of the center's initial projects include: overseeing the launch of the third OCI volume and collaborating with WQED in Pittsburgh for a broadcasted panel discussion; developing the concept of "the Third Slavery" to identify the modern era in the history of slavery; and publishing a directory of organizations studying the future of labor. Our most current efforts can be found in our news section.


Earl Lewis

Alford Young, Jr.
Associate Director