Field Course: Social Innovation Lab - Harvard Business School MBA Program

Field Course: Social Innovation Lab

Course Number 6582

Senior Lecturer John J-H Kim
Senior Lecturer Brian Trelstad

Spring; Q3Q4; 3 credits
6 classroom sessions; Thursdays 3:30 to 5:30

See video overview with Senior Lecturer John J-H Kim

There will be an introductory organizational session on Thursday, November 29. There will be six class sessions on Thursdays from 3:30 to 5:30.


This course provides students an opportunity to use the discipline of entrepreneurial management, innovative design thinking as well as business tools and techniques to address social innovation topics that attempt to improve the quality of life of low-income and poor individuals and households anywhere in the world (including USA). For example a past year’s team explored a potential business model to deliver nutritious and affordable groceries in poor neighborhoods. The course will also accept projects that attempt to solve a strategic problem for a client organization in the social sector. For example a past year’s team developed a national scaling strategy for an urban youth services organization. Topics on education, impact investing, financial technology, among others are all topics which previous teams have worked on.
Students will be required to work in teams, typically consisting of three members. The course will help facilitate the formation of teams and identification of projects.  Each student team will work primarily with one faculty member.
Some team projects may involve travel and limited travel funding support is available through an application. In past years, some students have worked on a project during the course which was later launched as a full scale social enterprise. 

Course Content

The course emphasizes learning by doing, supported by intensive faculty coaching and fieldwork. A small number of formal class sessions will provide structure to the course with a focus on collaborative problem solving.  This course will be offered at the i-lab with six class sessions structured in the following manner:

Introduction and Organization: Project identification 
This introductory session will provide an overview of the course.  In addition, while students are not expected to have already identified a project before taking the class, this session will occur before the winter break in order to provide students the option to use the winter break to identify or refine a potential project, begin discussions with a sponsoring organization, and/or form a project team.

Class 1: Identifying Projects and Teams 
This first session will be used to help students identify/refine projects, sponsoring organizations (if applicable), and fellow project team members. Students are encouraged to identify projects that they wish to pursue and partner with other students.  The instructor will also have a limited number of projects and sponsoring organizations in a variety of fields that are seeking student project teams. 

Class 2: Developing a hypothesis driven solution
This session helps the project team to develop a foundational roadmap for the project and working successfully with the sponsoring organization. Students will develop a concise background / situation analysis and problem definition; outline project scope and goals; identify key research/data sources such as potential entities/people to interview; identify analytical framework(s) that will inform the answers to key questions; and articulate milestones, deliverables and timelines.  These items will form the basis for a Terms of Reference (TOR) that serves as a “contract” between the student, the faculty advisor and sponsoring organization.

Class 3: Articulating and refining a theory of change 
Students will have an opportunity to practice and work in pairs of teams to articulate and refine a theory of change to address the problem/opportunity of the project.  The class will be conducted in a dynamic workshop approach and will explore various methods of structured idea generation.

Class 4: Developing a performance management approach 
Students will have the opportunity to identify and develop a performance management approach for their project that aligns with the mission of the sponsoring organization.  Social enterprises often approach value creation in a multi-faceted way and this session will offer opportunities to consider various methods and frameworks.

Class 5/6: Sustaining and scaling social enterprise
The last two classes will be devoted to addressing the questions of sustaining and scaling a successful social enterprise. 
This course is part of a portfolio of courses relevant to Social Enterprise. For a full listing, see the Social Enterprise Initiative website.