Earlier this year, the World Bank Group Leadership, Learning and Innovation vice presidency’s Development Marketplace program piloted its first eLearning course for social enterprises, “Innovative Business Models for Better Impact.” The course was developed by the DM in collaboration with the Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI) of Santa Clara University. The goal was to strengthen the capacity of social enterprises and NGOs to develop and implement business models that improve social services to poor populations in order to scale.
While we expected to have a large reaction from the social enterprise sector, the response was still amazing to hear. Here are a few reactions:
“I have already started using the knowledge gained from this course in my business, especially the concept of income and cost drivers as well as the concept of market segmentation.”
“The course was very useful, as well as your comments and feedback, which will definitely have a great impact on our support mechanisms to entrepreneurs and the way I should plan my project or start-up business.”
“The knowledge gained in this course is rich and of high value. I am positively inspired through the understandings and motivation delivered by this program.”
Participants completed the course more motivated to work on their business models, adaptive leadership and results-based management. In addition to having studied the material, many stated that simply having taken the course made them more confident and more knowledgeable about business plans and adaptive challenges.
Even more, participants walked away feeling connected to other social enterprises through the interactive activities, webinars, and facilitated discussions. These connections will allow social enterprises to exchange ideas, tactics, and ways in which they have become sustainable: they are now able to be stronger together.
As for the team, we also learned several lessons on ways in which we can provide skills and other knowledge to the many social enterprises who serve those living in extreme poverty. Here are just a few take-aways:
Encourage and support peer-to-peer interaction. As mentioned, participants and facilitators spoke of the value added by their interactions—whether through forum groups, webinars, or practical application sessions, they had a unique opportunity to share challenges and explore solutions. Participants also appreciated the low facilitator-participant ratio—each of the three facilitators had 20-30 participants in their cohort. Facilitators could thus offer personal, customized support and learn as well from the participants’ experiences.
Engage participants before the course to support peer interaction throughout. Adding to the previous lesson, having participants be comfortable with one another and facilitators from the start is conducive to successful learning and sharing. So, the second version of the course now has a “module zero” to break the ice so that participants have time for introductions with each other and facilitators before launch, and can continue these relationships in forum groups.
Integrate more real-life examples from the social entrepreneurial world. Although the content of the course revolves around three fictional social enterprises and webinars with real-life examples, participants requested additional cases and interviews with social entrepreneurs to make the course more relatable and applicable. The webinars were appreciated for their relevancy and practical topics; however, based on feedback we have added more resources and broader case studies in the latest course.
- Narrow the course’s target audience to more established social enterprises. The pilot indicated that the curriculum is more suited to social entrepreneurs who are refining or validating their business plans and preparing for growth. Of the participants that dropped out of the course, many had start-ups or did not already have an enterprise. To enhance the learning experience, we decided that the current delivery of the course would only accept participants with established ventures.
Innovative Business Models for Better Impact is a four week eLearning course designed, created, and facilitated by the World Bank Group's Development Marketplace, in collaboration with the Santa Clara University's Global Social Benefit Institute, and the World Bank Group's eInstitute. The pilot ran from January 12, 2015 to February 7, 2015 with 87 participants from across the globe. In addition to the course, the team hosted three webinars. You can see the second webinar, "For-profit, Nonprofit, or Hybrid: the Right Structure for Your Social Business" here. Given the overwhelming demand for the course (nearly 400 applicants during the two week application period), the Development Marketplace will continue to run the course to ensure social entrepreneurs are learning these crucial lessons in sustainability. In addition to this course, the Development Marketplace team is developing another eLearning course for policy makers and development proffessionals on how to adapt innovative business models into operations and government programs.
Alexandra Endara is the Project Coordinator for the eLearning aspect of the Development Marketplace. This is the first blog post in a series on the impact of eLearning on social innovation, social entrepreneurs, and innovative business models.