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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, its second in September 2017 and a third in 2018. 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 a dynamic panel discussion about religion, diversity, and spiritual coexistence; 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.