19 January 2015

The investment which pays the best interest

In autumn 2013, the UK based School for Social Entrepreneurs presented a piece of research examining social enterprise training across the UK. The research was carried out by Mark Richardson of Social Impact Consulting UK, a network of researchers and consultants experienced in understanding social problems and delivering social impact in the public, private and third sectors.

Their research revealed that the social economy sector invests not much time and money in training. However social entrepreneurs would prefer to have longer duration courses and 77% of them would be interested in a course taking place over several weeks or months. The “most wanted” topic of all is social impact measurement – almost 50 % of 449 entrepreneurs taking part in the survey would be interested in this kind of course. The most valuable teachers in their opinion would be expert practitioners from the sector, and at a later stage policy experts and coaches. The last important conclusion concerned learning online - 26% of respondents had already taken a course online, and 60% of respondents rated an "online course in their own time" as their first or second training preference.

Since autumn 2013 the availability of offline and online capacity building courses for social enterprises grew significantly. There are currently a great number of courses of different types, prices and aims. Some of them are organised by schools specialising in social entrepreneurship training, and others by not for profit organisations, social enterprises or well-known business schools like Harvard University Business School or Stanford Graduate School of Business. An Important supplement to educational programmes is provided in the form of research projects on social entrepreneurship, social innovation or capacity building. For example those established by the European Union and available on the Community Research and Development Information Service website. Valuable data on social entrepreneurship can be also found on the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor’s website.

Schools for Social Entrepreneurs

The School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) was founded in 1997 by Michael Young and offers a number of practical courses. The courses are available in the English language for students from the UK, Ireland, Canada and Australia. At the moment SSE offers around 25 courses covering the various topics on their agenda. For example: Understanding your finances – from SSE Scotland for those who want to understand their organisation’s finances and reduce its financial risks – costs £400 for Social Enterprises or Third Sector’s representatives and £500 for public and private sector.

The Course on Measuring Social Impact that takes place in March 2015 in London costs £360 for social enterprises and not for profit organisations and £410 for companies in the public sector. The 5 key lessons from the course can be read on the SSE blog.

For those who want to learn how to write a social media strategy or how to link social media to their organisation's goals there was a course available in March entitled “Kickstart Your Social Media Strategy” – for £130 for social enterprises or not for profit and £155 for public sector.
For students who speak Spanish, la Fundación Escuela Andaluza de Economía Social offers courses in social and solidarity economy.

Social economy at the Universities

Yale University’s School of Management and Stanford’s Graduate School of Business were the pioneers who brought social economy issues into academic life. Stanford launched its Public Management Program in 1971. From its start in 1976, Yale’s Management School aimed at educating not only business leaders but also leaders for society.

In recent years many of the most respected universities all over the world launched MBA programmes and graduate courses which are helping to fuel a boom in social entrepreneurship.

Among the universities referred to above are the Stockholm School of Entrepreneurship, Columbia Business School, Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, New York University’s Stern School of Business, Duke University’s Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship, The Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford University’s Said Business School, and Stanford University, just to name a few.

Since 1993 Harvard Business School has researched and written over 800 publications including social enterprise books, cases and teaching notes. The Social Enterprise Initiative at HBS engages with the non-profit, for-profit, and public sectors, with which it shares resources, tools, and knowledge. Courses that focus on social enterprise are incorporated within the MBA curriculum and Executive Education program.

Research forums and conferences sponsored by the SEI have for example examined Nonprofit Strategy, Business Leadership in the Social Sector, Consumer-Driven Healthcare, Global Poverty and Public Education. If you would like to know more about the academic courses on social economy and business the following website is a useful resource:

Auto education on social entrepreneurship

For those who want to study on their own there are online libraries offering teaching materials from established courses all over the world; for example, a library of teaching resources designed for business school faculty established in 2001 by the Aspen Institute's Center for Business Education (Aspen CBE). In order to use, you must register and create an account with the site. Registration is free of charge. 

An interesting example of training is the one offered by the REconomy project, part of the Transition Network, for Economic Evaluation projects. The Network is a global movement of communities that want to strengthen their resilience to problems like climate change, rising energy prices, economic uncertainty and inequality. The Economic Evaluation process helps to estimate the potential of a community in terms of change and social economy. One can better understand their local economy, get in touch with leaders, and plan development of local solutions for local problems, as a result.

For those who would like to have some sort of certification of their knowledge about social entrepreneurship there is the Social Entrepreneurship Certificate Program for $65 delivered by the Global Health University run by Unite For Sight, the global non-profit organization that has provided eye care to 1 800 000 people in North America, Africa and Asia. What is comfortable given the time constraints faced by many working in the area of social entrepreneurship is the fact that there is not a deadline for completion, and students might work on the coursework at their own pace.

The online course on Social Entrepreneurship without certification is available for free on the organisation’s website. Some interesting free webinars on capacity building can be found on Unite For Sight’s You Tube channel. One more organisation offering courses on social entrepreneurship is UnLtd. The organisation is the leading provider of support to social entrepreneurs in the UK and offers the largest such network in the world. The UnLtd free webinars for social entrepreneurs are also available online. An interesting supplement for webinars could be “Diffusion Packs” offered online by the Local United.

MOOC Courses

Many courses about social entrepreneurship and capacity building are offered by Coursera, an online learning platform where most of the courses are offered for free. You might for example find a course entitled “Configuring the World: A Critical Political Economy Approach” from Leiden University that will help you to understand the nature of the connection between politics and economics. Lund University uses the same platform to invite you to a course on “Greening the Economy: Lessons from Scandinavia” – how to combine economic development with a healthy environment. University of Pennsylvania invites students from over the world to courses on marketing, accounting, finance, leadership, sustainability and… social entrepreneurship via Stanford University proposes a course “Social and Economic Networks: Models and Analysis” to teach you how to model social and economic networks and their impact on human behavior from every possible point of view: economics, sociology, math, physics, statistics and computer science. Coursera also offers: “Global Sustainable Energy: Past, Present and Future” from University of Florida, “Learning for Sustainability: Developing a personal ethic” from the University of Edinburgh and “Leading Strategic Innovation in Organizations” from Vanderbilt University. You can find these, mostly free, resources on At the same time, if you are willing to pay you can find a course from Here, for 27 euro you can have a basic course on social entrepreneurship from the School of Change and for 62 euro a course entitled “How to become a social entrepreneur” from Heroes Economy.

Quick and practical courses from Acumen

Acumen is a non-profit venture fund that aims at supporting and investing in companies fighting against poverty. In 2012 Acumen started an educative innitiative “+Acumen” which is supposed to provide all kinds of knowledge to the leaders of the companies and organizations cooperating with Acumen, and anyone able to use the knowledge given online for their own sake. All the courses are available through the website and the vast majority are offered for free. Each of the +Acumen courses fits under one of the three areas of Acumen’s Leadership Model: moral imagination, operational skills and financial skills.

In January +Acumen started a new series of courses titled “Readings that matter”. During the first course participants worked with Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”. More information about this course is available here.

In march 2015 you could register to a course offered by Dr. Eric Simanis entitled “Financial Sustainability: The Numbers Side of Social Enterprise”, which gives you a glimpse of what the financial strategy for a social enterprise could be. This course was mentioned by John Byrne as one of the best MOOC business courses of February.

Another interesting course for social entrepreneurs offered by Acumen is the one entitled “Storytelling for Change”. It starts in May and was prepared by Acumen and The Ariel Group. It helps to develop practical skills as a storyteller. “Great storytellers are great communicators and effective leaders” – says the introduction to the course.

Apart form 3 courses mentioned about Acumen offers much more and the offer changes from one week to another.

The list of possible courses on social entrepreneurship is endless and would be great if entrepreneurs found time and could enjoy at least some of them. As Benjamin Franklin said: “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”

Paulina Wajszczak for