Social Innovation Lab Causes Creative Reactions

By Gareth Coetzee

The Social Innovation (SI) Lab is a unique learning-by-doing social venture course in the UCT Graduate School of Business MBA. It’s led by the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship. This lab is causing creative chemical reactions in the way students think and do.

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“The multi-faceted challenges of today call for creative and innovative solutions in the non-profit and public sectors that are more efficient and human-centred in how they deliver services to those who need them most,” says Bertha Centre Director, François Bonnici.

That’s the thinking behind the SI Lab. It’s a learning space for purpose-driven people to pursue social and environmental ventures in emerging markets. It combines teaching, field work, practitioner colloquiums and design thinking in an alchemical process that changes the way students view challenges and work
to solve them.

SI Lab students causing a stir

The SI Lab ran for the first time in 2012 and the inaugural crop of students has already started generating ideas and achieveing success.

Bertha Scholar, Ayanda Mavundla’s team developed a Micro-Franchise Accellerator with the Clothing Bank and The Business Place in Philippi. Diana Moore’s team submitted an innovation plan to integrate small-scale farmers into the food retail supply chain to increase the sustainability of this sector.

The SI Lab partnered another MBA team with social media innovation non-profit company RLabs to design the Kukua Fund, a novel investment fund aimed at discovering and investing in Africa’s high-potential internet and mobile start-ups driving social change.

The cleverly designed Kukua fund will provide these start-ups with micro-investments of up to US$25 000, as well as human capital, mentorship, access to networks and business development. This will in turn promote further growth of the industry and even more jobs.

Bertha Scholar and SI Lab graduate Daniel Sullivan was snapped up before the end of his MBA in 2012 and appointed senior project officer on the Cape Town World Design Capital team. A previous project manager with the UK Carbon Trust, Sullivan is eager to apply his newly acquired social innovation, systems and design thinking to the challenges facing Cape Town as a city. Not to find quick fixes. But rather to unpick how and why the problems actually occur.

“Design thinking is a way of addressing the illness as opposed to the symptoms,” says Sullivan. “Take the problem of housing as an example – we need aesthetic and functional living spaces, but we also have to appreciate the poor spatial planning that plagues Cape Town.”

Sustainable positive change requires looking at problems through a lens of possibility, Sullivan explains. Then a whole new range of solutions presents itself.

“If we look at the system and consider the needs which a house fulfills, then we may realise our definition of a house doesn’t necessarily have to be four walls and a roof. This liberates us to look at apartment or other designs that address the needs and deliver their solutions within the defined constraints.”


Inside | Gareth Coetzee

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