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University of Cape Town

Becoming a changemaker: Introduction to Social Innovation

University of Cape Town via Coursera


This course is for anyone who wants to make a difference. Whether you are already familiar with the field of social innovation or social entrepreneurship, working for an organization that wants to increase its social impact, or just starting out, this course will take you on a journey of exploring the complex problems that surround us and how to start thinking about solutions.

We will debunk common assumptions around what resources are needed to begin acting as a social innovator. We will learn from the numerous examples of social innovations happening all over the world. You will be challenged to get out of your comfort zone and start engaging with the diverse spaces around you. By the end of the course, you will have formed your own approach to social innovation, and you will have begun to develop the concepts, mindset, skills, and relationships that will enable you to start and evolve as a changemaker.

The Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship co-created this course with RLabs, a social movement ‘born-and-bred’ in Bridgetown, Cape Town that is now active in 22 countries. The movement empowers youth through innovative and disruptive technology by teaching them vital skills and providing much needed support and a sense of community. Advocating and supporting initiatives such as RLabs forms part of the Bertha Centre’s mandate. The Centre is a specialised unit at University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business, and is the first academic centre in Africa dedicated to advancing social innovation and entrepreneurship.


  • What's our problem?
    • Welcome to Becoming a changemaker! This week, we distinguish between simple, complicated and complex problems. Social innovation takes place in complex systems and complex systems have complex or “wicked” problems, like the kinds of problems the world is trying to tackle right now such as climate change, HIV Aids and other pandemics, poverty and inequality. A complex system has many variables or elements such as different sorts of people, material and rules and those elements of the system are interacting with each other so much that the complexity increases exponentially. So the work of complexity is about bringing yourself into the system, engaging with it, living with it and innovating in yourself as you innovate in that system that you’re working in. You can’t look at the whole system but you can look at more than one piece of it. The more you start to bring in different parts of the systems, you can then start to connect those in ways that they weren’t connected before.
  • What do we have to work with?
    • One of the hallmarks of very innovative organizations and people is that they see resources where other people don’t, and they can bring those resources to bear to create new innovative solutions. There’s transformative power in shifting from looking at needs, gaps, and what’s wrong, to appreciating strengths, resources and what’s right. Through developing a strength-based mindset and an appreciative approach you can discover hidden or underused resources. These resources might be people, kinds of knowledge and expertise, time, and physical spaces. As soon as you start seeing resources all around you, not only can you move forward but you become energised and hopeful, and creative things start to happen. You’ll find that you might be a lot richer than you think in terms of what you have to start building your own social innovation with.
  • Getting out of your comfort zone
    • By nature the world of social innovation is made of crossing boundaries, bringing together different actors, resources, spaces, but it can be overwhelming. Part of our challenge on the journey to becoming changemakers is to learn how to become comfortable with discomfort and how in the social innovation space where you take yourself into spaces and you surround yourself with people that you normally do not engage with. Understanding how we define differences using cultural, sociological, psychological and spiritual lenses and what the nature of the differences is helps to develop tools for getting out of your comfort zone. It takes a little bit of courage because it makes you uncomfortable, but that’s how you build the competencies, the personal resilience to engage with difference when we do go and drive for innovations or we look to make differences in communities that are unlike us or operate in a different way.
  • Innovating by design
    • A number of methodologies and processes can help generate ideas and creative opportunities, and some of these have been used in business to generate new products and services, and are starting to be applied in social innovation. Human-centred design is incredibly important, and the Design Thinking process allows you to start early and wherever you are with whatever you’ve got. Design Thinking has evolved as a way to respond to deeper user insights, to connect more with people and with communities so that we can actually design solutions that are human-centred. Design Thinking is not just about products, but also helps create new processes, new systems, new services, and importantly even user experiences. Following a Design Thinking process will help you iterate and test your solution with end users, with an emphasis on failing early and often through trying things out and prototyping. Powerful Design Thinking methodology can help you to come up with human-centred design solutions that manifest economic viability, technical feasibility and social desirability in your social innovation.
  • Changing the system - who me?
    • Understanding that social innovation is system innovation can help us appreciate why social innovation is so difficult to do. Social innovations can start to challenge and change the underlying system conditions that caused the social or environmental problem in the first place. We are asked to innovate around belief systems, or around authority, power, and resource flows. So, a social innovation challenges the rules of the game. Asking what’s innovative about the work means asking questions around the experiences of where an innovation might be changing the rules of the games and allows us to go deeper into the kinds of impacts that might be possible, and discover hidden impacts. When any kind of social innovation starts to get at the systemic roots, we’re going to be provoking anxiety. So it’s quite helpful to map out the social system and the rules that govern it and then to consider how you are challenging these rules through the innovation.
  • What if it works?
    • In the end social innovation is about impact. We’re all trying to have a meaningful, positive effect on the world, whatever that might mean to us. If we do this and we’re actually successful, this is going to take us sooner or later to the question of scale. How do we grow that innovation? As social innovations mature, the forms they could take and the multiple ways in which you could organise around achieving impact increase. It used to be easy to label organisations according to non-profit and for profit, and government institutions based on their purpose, its organisational structure and the way it measured what it achieved. That’s all changing. There are different ways to diffuse and scale the work that we’re doing to achieve impact.

Taught by

François Bonnici and Warren Nilsson


4.9 rating, based on 37 Class Central reviews

4.8 rating at Coursera based on 1526 ratings

Start your review of Becoming a changemaker: Introduction to Social Innovation

  • Anonymous
    This was an outstanding course - particularly as I live in Cape Town and was able to apply the ideas and create examples based on the community they were often discussing (RLabs) and its impact on the Cape Town community and even further afield. I found myself considering ideas and thinking about social innovative ideas from a completely new and refreshing perspective.
    I recommend this course for anyone who feels passionatiely about change in their environment and how to initiate it.
    Thank you to the UCT (University of Cape Town) team and I hope that they produce more courses such as this - as it was of an incredibly high standard. Carolynn B @carbru
  • Anonymous
    I have just finished the course and cannot express enough how energizing and motivating it was to be taken on a journey of out the box thinking and new vision towards social problems with examples of down to earth achievable solutions.
    I have told everyone I know to enroll and grow from this well put together and dynamically delivered journey. It was also great to connect with likeminded others from all over the world. Thank you to the whole team.
  • Anonymous
    I highly recommend this most inspirational course. The content, case studies and structure of the course was of excellent expert quality in every way. The course has altered my opinion of Social Innovation, once looked upon as untouchable, and meant for only those few professionals in the field.this has changed as it's become a tangible possibility for us all given the right innovation with the correct intention and execution. Taking this course has deepened my awareness of my environment and my community, where I fee I have the confidence to identify an issue and by applying the course content and tools which I have learnt, be on my way to becoming a change maker...even if it changes the life of one...

    Sadia Deane
  • Anonymous
    This course was a challenge for me because I have never studied by this way. On the other hand, It was interesting and the concepts were clear and they were focused on the main idea.
    Thanks for giving a certificate with honours.
    Best wishes
  • Monique Toussaint
    As I a always want to perform my self and enhance my skills I ofthen look for knowledge which will help me reach my goal. "Becoming a change maker " has always been my main source of interest and from the start of the course I immersed myself in it because I saw my expectations fulfilled through the experiences of RLABs, very motivating, the Mothers2Mothers experience is very significant and
    Getting out of your comfort zone is a concept that catches my attention because it results in our innovative spirit. often we move forward in life without really asking ourselves the questions that it does and yet there is a path in the question that guides us and allows us to better apprehend a problem.

  • Anonymous
    I have just finished the course and am feeling sad that it has ended. The video lectures were interesting, challenging and relevant. The story of RLabs encouraged innovation - and was realistic in covering some of the way things didn't work - but that is OK - failure can be expected but it is not the end of the story - just part of the learning curve.
    A valuable learning experience not just learning about social innovation but in experiencing an on-line education programme at its very best.
    Well done the team who put it together - thank you !
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous completed this course. I highly recommend this most inspirational course. The content, case studies and structure of the course was of excellent expert quality in every way. The course has altered my opinion of Social Innovation, once loo…
  • Profile image for Roxanne Davids
    Roxanne Davids
    Becoming a changemaker Social Innovation was lots of fun, required diligence as there was a broad range of materials to read and video lessons and I was introduced to topics in building a social innovation, answers to a wicked problem, system questions, design thinking and the spectrum of businesses from NGO/NPO to for-profit businesses.

    Definitely recommend this course!
  • Anonymous
    The course was engaging and excellent. The speakers simply great and very good the number and variety of cases explored. I think I have got an overall picture of what social innovation is through this course which was a bit fragmented before. I feel more capable and confident right now to deal with the topic, to use and search materials, and to understand the variety of types of social organizations found out there.
  • Anonymous
    For anyone who is concerned about social problems and wants to make a difference, this course will give you a foundation and spark your thinking. I wish everyone could be exposed to this thinking because I know we can solve these problems, however wicked they may be...
  • This is a fantastic free course. I was able to open up my mind and learn different ways of thinking about social innovation, I especially liked being able to read everyone's assignments, it was interesting to see what people from all of the world were passionate about and what their different ideas, perspectives and motivations were. I am now able to start my own journey with confidence.
  • Anonymous
    Excellent course. Clear, helpful and I have walked away so inspired. We have a small NGO and this has helped us with excellent tools to begin to think out the box and really bring some social innovation ideas to life. The assignments are practical and you finish with something tangible you can continue to work on and follow through with.
  • VM
    Amazing course! Learnt a lot and I am grateful to them for sharing such information for free. Anyone who is thinking of knowing more about this course should enrol without any second thought! Thank you Class Central for introducing this course and thanks to Coursera for creating such a platform to bring such amazing courses.
  • Davide Patruno
    I loved this course.
    It's not just theory, but a lot of cases and real examples were introduced.
    There are some key elements really good to start an innovation path in whatever context.
    The learner is pushed to the action and to apply what you learn since the beginning.

  • Anonymous
    The Course is very informative and it really helps us have an expanded view of things or topics. For me, in week 4's assignment- making prototype, it would be more helpful to us- especially the "beginners" if the mentors or teachers in this course will give their personal feedback.

  • Paul Durrant
    Well presented, good material and the case study of RLabs was very inspiring. Overall, I think the course delivered on its promise - "does what it says on the tin"!
  • Excellent! Inspiring, Practical, Interactive, gave me numerous insights and ideas to approach my solution. Real case studies were very carefully selected and assignments right to the point of the theory explained. Really enjoyed it! Lefki Avdi
  • Profile image for Sílvia Isidro
    Sílvia Isidro
    This is the extraordinary course, for it opens doors to hope.

    It provides a whole new spectrum of possibilities in action on social issues.
  • Anonymous
    Wahoo! Great course, inspired and empowered. It is well delivered. I feel I MUST go and make a difference.
    The course is well worth the time and is also the perfect length.
  • I have learned a lot from this course. I like when I can discuss. + case studies + quality videos + easy to understand

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