In the past few years, there has been an exponential increase in social entrepreneurship classes at universities. In most of these classes, professors teach students how to create business plans for social ventures. And many of these courses are excellent. But what if we went beyond this? What if we taught the key mindsets and skill sets that help make successful social entrepreneurs? For the past six years, the Transformative Action Institute (TAI) has been promoting a curriculum that teaches these skills. From in-depth studies of social innovators, we have identified seven important competencies that are essential for success:

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First piloted at UCLA in 2005, this course has now been taught at more than 30 universities across the world including Yale, Princeton, Cornell, NYU, Johns Hopkins, and UC Berkeley. Both Echoing Green and Ashoka U have recognized the organization as an innovator in social entrepreneurship education. In surveys, more than 90 percent of students said this class changed their lives. However, the financial downturn has made it more difficult to innovate on campus. Faculty and administrators face an uphill battle because of budget woes. How can you offer new course ideas when universities are cutting deep into traditional course offerings, and hiring fewer and fewer faculty? TAI’s module for social entrepreneurship is adaptable and cost-effective for universities because practicing social entrepreneurs from the local community can be brought in to teach as adjuncts. The TAI curriculum gives instructors a teaching manual to draw from, cutting down their course preparation time, while students benefit from an exchange with real-life social entrepreneurs who can share their experiences.


Our course is based on all of the following principles:

Most traditional education is deadening. Teachers rely on lectures far too much, even though studies continually show that this is the least effective method of learning.

Traditional education is based on the premise that teachers have all the power and students have none. It is based on the idea that students should sit quietly, obey orders, and be passive recipients of “the truth.”

There will be no busywork: A tremendous body of research points to a startling conclusion, at odds with most education in the United States: When people are primarily motivated by the desire to get an award (such as a good grade), they will perform much worse; they will have less creativity; they will do the bare minimum to meet the requirements; and they will quickly lose interest in the subject after they earn the reward.

This is a course that asks students to explore their deepest dreams and hopes and visions for the state of the world.

The success of this course depends on the students, not the teacher. It requires them to take leadership over their education.

This is also going to be one of the most rigorous and demanding courses that the students ever take. This is for many reasons.

Unlike most courses at the university, which are fiercely competitive, and where students are being individualistic, this is a course that changes the paradigm of education. The success of each student depends on the success of the others.

How you can use this toolkit

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This project continues to be a work in progress. We appreciate your ideas and suggestions. Please contact Scott Sherman at