MG4G1      Half Unit
Understanding Social Problems for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

This information is for the 2019/20 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Harm Barkema NAB 4.24 and Dr Flora Cornish COL 8.09


This course is compulsory on the MSc in Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship. This course is not available as an outside option.

Course content

A key insight of social innovation and enterprise is that the type of management solution (unlike traditional management solutions) depends entirely on – and varies with – the type of social problem at hand. Hence, social innovation and enterprise starts with understanding the social problem it seeks to address. This course starts with a rigorous examination of key insights, concepts and theoretical frameworks (economic, psychological, sociological perspectives) that are essential in understanding social problems for social innovation. Applied to globally identified core challenges: the Sustainable Development Goals (on poverty, health, education, and the natural environment). The theory will be taught through interactive lectures, FB discussions where students post and discuss new contributions, cases, empirical studies, and so on. We will have guest presentations with speakers from practice on core topics.


Next, the course continues with classes teaching (qualitative) methodologies, methods and tools, which are applied by student teams to a real-life case/problem in one of the SDG domains in an emerging economy and presented and discussed in class as a pedagogical device. Students go over in the reading week for actual field work and data collection (i.e., roughly half of the team; the other half will go over in the Lent Term for additional field work and data collection, as part of the Social Design course, MG4G2).

Finally, we will have integration classes, where student teams synthesize and further apply theory (insights, concepts, frameworks) and methodology (methods, tools) to their real-life case/problem and develop an initial proposal for a Theory of Change for a social enterprise, anchored in an evidence-based understanding of the relevant social problem, to be presented and discussed in class, for feedback.

During the course, students will also be introduced to core ideas and insights about the social entrepreneur’s ‘learning journey’ towards achieving major social impact. 


More specifically, students learn:

• Key theoretical approaches (economic, psychological, sociological, anthropological) to understanding social problems underlying social innovation and entrepreneurship;

• How to apply these core theoretical approaches to a broad but important class of real life challenges, as addressed by the Sustainable Development Goals;

• Empirical findings – from social science research – on how social problems differ across contexts (cultural, economic, sociological, political); Core methodological approaches (methods and tools of qualitative analysis) to analyse real-life social problems; Synthesizing and relating theoretical and methodological insights, concepts, and frameworks, to understanding social problems, as applied to a real-life case;

• More fundamentally, learning how and why management solutions in the domain of social innovations and social enterprise are not generic but always ‘contextualized,’ and depend on the specific social problem for a relevant target group, and how core theoretical approaches and methodologies can be used to develop an evidence-based understanding of the local social problem at hand, as a starting point for designing social innovations and enterprises (developed further in MG4G2 Social Innovation Design).

• Core insights regarding the social entrepreneur’s learning journey towards major social impact: learning from successes but also from failures (how, why, and when: under which conditions) and so on.


21 hours of lectures and 9 hours of classes in the MT.

In addition to 21hrs of lectures and 9hrs of seminars, students will attend a 3hr group dynamics workshop.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the MT.

Indicative reading

Beteille, A. (2003). Poverty and inequality. Economic and Political Weekly, 4455-4463.

Wright, E.O., 2009, Understanding class, New Left Review, Nov-Dec.

Banerjee, A. V., & Duflo, E. (2007). The economic lives of the poor. The journal of economic perspectives: a journal of the American Economic Association, 21(1), 141.

Dolan, C. and M.J. Johnstone-Louis, 2011, Re-siting Corporate Responsibility: The Making of South Africa’s Avon Entrepreneurs, Fiscaal: European Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology, 60 (Summer) 21-33.

Dolan, C., Johnstone-Louis, M., & Scott, L. (2012). Shampoo, saris and SIM cards: seeking entrepreneurial futures at the bottom of the pyramid. Gender & Development, 20(1), 33-47.

Morduch, J. (1999). The microfinance promise. Journal of economic literature, 37(4), 1569-1614.

Shakya, Y. B., & Rankin, K. N. (2008). The politics of subversion in development practice: an exploration of microfinance in Nepal and Vietnam. The Journal of Development Studies, 44(8), 1214-1235.


Project (45%) and class participation (10%) in the MT.
Essay (45%, 1500 words) in the LT.

Key facts

Department: Management

Total students 2018/19: 36

Average class size 2018/19: 18

Controlled access 2018/19: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Application of numeracy skills
  • Commercial awareness
  • Specialist skills