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Social Innovation in Action


Disclaimer: due to the coronavirus pandemic, this course description might be subject to changes. For the latest updates regarding corona virus, please check this link.

Admission requirements

This course is an (extracurricular) Master Honours Class aimed at talented Master’s students. Admission will be based on academic background, GPA and motivation.

This course is aimed at students who are interested in learning how societal challenges can be tackled using entrepreneurial tools to achieve positive social change. You are not required to have any past business acumen, but must have an interest in (social) business modelling.

Admission application assignment:
To be selected for this course, you must submit a short (maximum 1000 characters including spaces) motivation explaining why you want to join this course, and what you bring to a social innovation team (skills, knowledge, attitudes). Applicants will be chosen based on their suitability and drive to pursue real social innovation, by a hands-on approach.


In today’s vibrant economy, we witness a strong undercurrent of change in economic thinking. The importance of social integration, once a rather frozen concept, has begun to thaw; people, companies and governments are exploring and grasping the importance of embedding society within business practice to achieve longer-term survivability and positive growth prospects. The question is; How can we use entrepreneurial-thinking to tackle social challenges?

This is a high-paced, innovative course that allows you to apply your skills and theory to real-life solutions. As such, be prepared to work fast and think creatively!

In this dynamic course, you are tasked with finding a sustainable-solution to a real social problem faced by the city of Leiden. You will be introduced to different entrepreneurial tools from Design Thinking, Complex Thinking, Systems Thinking, Business Modelling and Social Innovation theories. This set of tools will allow you to understand that one problem can be tackled from different perspectives and will allow you to define the best solution and small steps you can take.

As a class, we will choose a societal challenge in Leiden to tackle. You will have to interact with different stakeholders, you will have to make use of your own network, and reach out to different people in order to make things happen.

This is a very high-paced and hands-on course, where most of the learning comes from engaging with the outside world.

Course objectives

Upon successful completion of this course, students will:

  • apply theories and tools to assess complex societal challenges;

  • evaluate the needs and preferences of their beneficiary;

  • identify their own assumptions and find ways to rapidly test them;

  • critically assess ideas by conducting rapid assumptions tests;

  • develop and test their experiment;

  • present their solutions and answer questions effectively;

  • work within a group of students with diverse backgrounds;

  • reflect on their personal progress and role within their team.


The 3 hour sessions will take place on Tuesday from 16.00 - 19.00.

The course is broken up into three phases; Understand, Develop and Test. For each phase different entrepreneurial tools will be introduced.
In the Understanding phase we will dive into understanding a challenge by using tools from Complex Systems, Human Centered Design, Prospective tools and Design thinking.
For the Development phase, we will learn about business modeling, rapid prototyping and how to create sustainable models.
The last part of the course consists of testing and interacting as much as possible with the community and challenge you chose to tackle.

Below is a tentative class structure:

Phase I: Understanding

Session 1: November 2, 2021
Introduction to the course and Social Innovation

Session 2: November 9, 2021
Complex systems thinking

Session 3: November 16, 2021
Context quantitative and team formation

Session 4: November 23, 2021
How to ask questions and understand context

Session 5: November 30, 2021
Role of technology in Social Innovation

Session 6: December 7, 2021
Theory of change / Successful social interventions + SE

Session 7: December 14, 2021
Present your research

Session 8: January 11, 2022
No class: catch up with your team

Phase II: Development:

Session 9: January 18, 2022
Sustainable social innovations and rapid prototyping

Session 10: January 25, 2022
Financial sustainable model

Session 11: February 1, 2022
Map your assumptions and define your intervention

Phase III: Testing:

Session 12: February 8, 2022
Test your intervention

Session 13: February 15, 2022
Test your intervention

Session 14: February 22, 2022
Peer-to-peer feedback to intervention

Session 15: March 1, 2022
Learning how to pitch

Session 16: March 8, 2022
The road to the future

Session 17: March 15, 2022
Final presentations


PLNT, Leiden Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Langegracht 70


Class 1: Introduction to SIA
After an introduction to the course content, structure and assessment, we will explore the concept of social innovation and you will be introduced to the societal challenge we will be tackling together during the course. During this class you will be introduced to the foundational theory of social entrepreneurship. What does it mean to be a social entrepreneur?

Class 2: Matching bootcamp with local stakeholders
During this class you will get acquaintance with Complex system thinking and you will apply to the topic you have chosen to work on. We will use a framework called Horizontals Architecture Framework to make sense of the different dimensions social entrepreneurs have to manage throughout their journey.

Class 3 & 4: Problem space theory and design
During these classes you will learn how to effectively analyze and understand the context of your societal challenge. Class 3 is focused on a quantitative analysis of the context, and creating teams. While in class 4 you will learn tools from Human centered design that will allow you to develop a more empathetic understanding of your ‘beneficiary’; the person or people you aim to help.

Class 5: Solution space theory
Technology plays a big part in how societies evolve and behave, but also, it’s playing a bigger role in the development of solutions. During this class we will dive into technology trends and will use tools from Prospective Design in order to imagine how the future might look and to select some technologies that, if used for good, can create a positive impact in the world.

Class 6: Blended Value Creation theory
Having developed a thorough understanding of the societal challenge in class 3, 4 & 5, you will now learn more about the social entrepreneurship process. During this class you will learn about Theory of Change and different frameworks for measuring impact, as well as having some inspiration from how different innovators around the world have created successful Social Innovations.

Class 7: Solution space design session
During this class you will deliver a presentation (10min) of the challenge you are tackling. You will receive feedback from your peers and instructors that will help you improve your solution. After this session, a small dinner will be organized to celebrate your achievements so far!

Class 8: Solution presentation
During this class you will meet with your team and will start working on coming up with possible solutions for your challenge.

Class 9: Learn how to pitch and practice
During this class you will articulate the differences between organisational forms (from NGOs to Social Enterprises), we will identify social entrepreneurship business models And you will start sketching a business model for your social entrepreneurship idea. During the second part of the class you will learn about Rapid Prototyping techniques which will allow you to test your solution in the coming months.

Class 10: Financial sustainable models
Every social innovation requires money to work. During this class you will Understand different Social Enterprise revenue engines, you will assess the cost structure of your solution and you will build a Financially Sustainable Model.

Class 11, 12, 13 & 14 : Map assumptions, define your intervention and test
At this point you developed a solution to your challenge. During this class you will learn how to identify the riskiest assumptions of your idea and develop appropriate experiments to test them. The results of this test will be presented in the final class (17). Class 12 and 13 are spaces for you to develop and interact with your beneficiaries so you can test your solution with the community.

Class 15: Learning how to storytell
In today’s world, learning how to convey stories is more important than ever. During this class, you will have a session where we will discuss the importance of storytelling and communication techniques that you can apply in the creation of your video.

Class 16: The road to the future
Our course has come to an end! As any good entrepreneur does, we must evaluate ourselves, our team, and the solutions we have created. During this week, we need to reflect back on our original challenge and see if our proposed solution really does impact that challenge, and if so, to what extent? From here you will create a map of the next steps for your solution and for yourself.

Class 17: Final presentations
During this class we will watch the video of your assumption tests journey and explain how this has impacted your solution. This is part of your formal assessment. Your presentation will be assessed as follows:

  • Introduce your critical assumptions (15%)

  • Quality of your experiment(s) (40%) - Change to solution (25%)

  • Overall quality (20%)

Course load

This course is worth 10 ECTS, which means the total course load equals 280 hours.

  • Lectures: 17 lectures of 3 hours = 51 hrs

  • Literature reading & practical work: 10 hours p/week = 140 hrs

  • Assignments & final essay: 80 hrs


Individual assessment:

  • 30% Individual report

Group assessment:

  • 20% In-class presentation

  • 30% Group report (2x 15% mid and final report)

  • 30 % Group video

Attendance = Pass/Fail
Additional requirements: examination of this Master Honours Class consists of several partial exams. Students could only pass this course after successful completion of all partial exams.

Reading list

Bloom, P.N. and Dees, G. (2008), Cultivate your ecosystem. Stanford social innovation review, 6(1), pp.47-53.

Johansson-Sköldberg, Ulla et. al (2012). “Design Thinking: Past, Present and Possible Futures.” Creativity and Innovation Management 22(2):121–146

Judit Kertesz (2017) Introduction to empathy maps. RealTimeBoard. Accessed: 29 January 2018. Available at:

Monarth, H. (2015) The Irresistible Power of Storytelling as a Strategic Business Tool. HBR
Twersky, F., Buchanan, P., & Threlfall, V. (2013). Listening to those who matter most, the beneficiaries. Stanford Social Innovation Review, 11(2), 40-45.

Peredo, A. M., & McLean, M. (2006). Social entrepreneurship: A critical review of the concept. Journal of world business, 41(1), 56-65. (Available online)

Bloom, P.N. and Dees, G. (2008), Cultivate your ecosystem. Stanford social innovation review, 6(1), pp.47-53.

Alter, K., 2007. Social enterprise typology. Virtue Ventures LLC, 12, pp.1-124.

Twersky, F., Buchanan, P., & Threlfall, V. (2013). Listening to those who matter most, the beneficiaries. Stanford Social Innovation Review, 11(2), 40-45.

Strategyzer, A.G., 2015. The value proposition canvas. Retrieved at January, 10, p.2016.

All reading is available online, or will be made available to students. Other possible literature will be announced in Class or via Brightspace and is different per lecturer.

Brightspace and uSis

Brightspace will be used in this course. Upon admission students will be enrolled in Brightspace by the teaching administration.

Please note: students are not required to register through uSis for the Master Honours Classes. Your registration will be done centrally.


Submitting an application for this course is possible from Monday 13 September 2021 up to and including Sunday 26 September 2021 23:59 through the link on the Honours Academy student website.

Note: students don’t have to register for the Master Honours Classes in uSis. The registration is done centrally before the start of the class.


Betty Huerta