MG4G1      Half Unit
Understanding Social Problems for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Professor Harry Barkema, Professor Flora Cornish and Dr Lamees Tanveer.


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

Course content

The aim of this course, together with Social Organization Design (MG4G2) in the Lent term, is to help you to better understand, design, lead, and grow your social enterprise. This course – MG4G1 – focuses on the first part of your entrepreneurial journey, starting with the crucial issue of understanding the social problem of your relevant target group. We will also discuss, during the second part of this course, key elements of your entrepreneurial journey, such as Lean Startup, pivots and learning from failure, as well as how to engage with others, such as other entrepreneurs, investors, incubators and accelerators to help you reach your goals better. The second course – MG4G2 – builds on this course in terms of better understanding and designing the business model and its key elements; value proposition, revenue model, and internal organization (leadership, incentives, processes for learning & innovation) and external organization (partners & ecosystems) of your social enterprise, as well as scaling strategies.

Both courses are interactive and problem-based. At the heart of both courses is one real-life, evidence-based design challenge for a social enterprise, in the form of a group project (5-6 students) in a low-income neighbourhood in Nairobi or a township in Cape Town. The project starts with building a Theory of Change, based on your understanding of the social problem of your target group, anchored in fieldwork. 

Each week of the course consists of:

- Preparation: A set of core readings (journal articles, cases, etc.) for that week

- A lecture (2 hours) where key insights are shared and discussed

- An interactive seminar (1 hour), starting with a mini-lecture, followed by in-depth discussion in student groups (5-6 students), and a plenary discussion

- Student-moderated group discussions of a case or key topic of the week (30 mins, groups of 5-6 students) with a short summary of insights and conclusions to be posted online

- Reflection log, a short impression of your personal key learnings of the week (‘Aha-moments’), posted online in the form of a 3-minute video or PPT.

Other key elements of the course are:

- A real-life group design project (5-6 students) addressing a real social problem in an emerging economy (in low-income neighbourhoods in Nairobi, Kenya, and in townships in Cape Town, South Africa), The group project is fully integrated into the program, and students work on it throughout the course.

- A 1-week international field trip to collect data for the group project to these sites (in week 8: Reading week). If the journey is not possible due to health and safety reasons (e.g., COVID-19) then the fieldtrip will be held ‘on-line,’ in cooperation with our local partners including local ‘navigators,’ in Nairobi and Cape Town to facilitate data collection through virtual interviews.

- An individual assignment, via two tracks – self-selected by students; a) designing your own social enterprise (in cooperation with Generate, our LSE incubator/accelerator) or alternatively, b) a consulting project, for an existing social enterprise or social business unit of a company, or an NGO, incubator, or impact investor of your choice.


20 hours of lectures, 10 hours of classes and 5 hours of classes in the MT.

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 (35%, 5000 words), class participation (10%), class participation (10%) and learning log (10%) in the MT.
Essay (35%, 1500 words) in the LT.

The project (35%, 5000 words) will be a group piece of work, while the essay (35%, 1,500 words) will be an individual piece of work.

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Management

Total students 2020/21: 44

Average class size 2020/21: 15

Controlled access 2020/21: Yes

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