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Teaching the Thinking of Social Entrepreneurship: How We Designed the Getting Beyond Better Syllabus

December 5, 2016

By Nogah Kornberg

Just over a year ago, Sally Osberg and Roger Martin asked if I would help them design a post-secondary course syllabus to accompany their book Getting Beyond Better: How Social Entrepreneurship Works. Our goal was clear: create a class framework that would build students’ capacity to think like social entrepreneurs. Why focus on thinking? Three forces led us in that direction.

The first was the text of Getting Beyond Better. In the book, Roger and Sally explore the stories of outstanding social entrepreneurs like Paul Farmer, Molly Melching and Bart Weetjens. Rather than focusing solely on the actions each undertook to create equilibrium change, Roger and Sally explore the thinking behind those actions—the shared process that led (or is leading to) transformational change. It was clear to me from the book that being a social entrepreneur is a way of seeing and being in the world. Understanding that way of thinking seems to me to be a helpful way into understanding social entrepreneurship.

The second influence is my own experience with teaching thinking. As a former high-school teacher, and now as Associate Director of the I-Think Initiative, I have a strong focus on developing students’ ability to reflect on their thinking and to solve truly challenging problem. There is a wonderful movement in education to shift from teaching content to teaching thinking and creativity. After all, students can now search for almost any piece of content on their smart phones. What education institutions can uniquely offer is a set of experiences that build students’ ability to think critically and apply that thinking to solving problems. A syllabus focused on thinking like a social entrepreneur, I hoped, would contribute to this shift in teaching and learning.

The final guiding force was Roger himself. I’ve worked with Roger for the past six years and have observed the particular lens through which he sees the world. This perspective has been shaped by his mentors, including the late Chris Argyris. Roger has spent his career observing when models don’t work, seeking to understand why they are breaking down and working to create new models. The syllabus was an opportunity to make some of Roger’s approaches explicit.

The syllabus uses Getting Beyond Better as the core text, incorporating readings that expand on the themes of the book. The course begins with a section on equilibrium change, highlighting a grounding definition of social entrepreneurship, exploring the notion of wicked problems, and introducing the concept of mindset as a frame for the rest of the course. A short section on business-led and government-led transformation allows students to examine the traditional ways in which the world has been transformed, before diving into social entrepreneurship more deeply. The bulk of the course then follows the process of social entrepreneurship as laid out in the book, providing frameworks and tools from design thinking, systems thinking, integrative thinking, and strategy to help students build their own understanding and capabilities.

Designing the syllabus was our attempt at making explicit the underlying frameworks that informed the insights in Getting Beyond Better. We believe that everyone is capable of this kind of thinking, so we pulled in readings that would help students build their thinking abilities in the context of social entrepreneurship. We hope that this syllabus contributes to a shift in how we teach and think about social entrepreneurship in post-secondary and graduate education, but maybe even in high schools. Now, wouldn’t that be awesome?

Get The Syllabus

Also read this post by Sally Osberg and Roger Martin about the syllabus, titled “Getting Beyond Better Syllabus: Being a Social Entrepreneur Is a Way of Seeing and Being in the World“.

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