A massive open online course, or Mooc, has inspired thousands of people around the world to start up their own social enterprises. We discover how this online training programme has had such a global impact – and what its founders are planning next.

“The course was a revelation to me.” For several years, Sabeena Ahmed had been promoting fair trade products in Dubai, yet, she says, “I was working blind”. With little recognition of the concepts of ethical consumerism and sustainability in the United Arab Emirates, Sabeena was a lone campaigner with no local support.

But completing an online training course in 2016, Ahmed says, made her realise that she was in fact a social entrepreneur and part of a worldwide community of like-minded souls. The course gave her practical information about the business she was in, boosted her confidence and connected her with a host of new opportunities.

Ahmed is just one of more than 50,000 people who have signed up for the Social Enterprise Mooc – a massive open online course – which, when it began, was the first of this new-style education tool dedicated to nurturing social entrepreneurs worldwide. To date, at least 2,000 social enterprise start-ups have been attributed to this Mooc and it has reached more than 50,000 people in 190 countries.

It has gone viral, says Professor Fergus Lyon of Middlesex University which co-hosts the course. “It has blown my mind, the scale it has reached.”

What is the Social Enterprise Mooc?

The term ‘Mooc’ was first used in 2008 to describe a new wave of open access, online courses, designed to provide learning to unlimited numbers of people for free. Pioneered by big-name institutions including the USA’s Stanford and Harvard universities and the Open University in the UK, Moocs usually have no entry requirements and they don’t lead to formal qualifications. Yet they have become a huge success, with hundreds of thousands of people around the world taking the opportunity to develop their knowledge without having to attend a university.

The Social Enterprise Mooc was the brainchild of Dr Sara Calvo and Dr Andrés Morales, the founders of Minca Ventures, a social enterprise which studies social enterprise around the world as well as offering sustainability education, and consultancy and coaching services for sustainable businesses. In 2016, with some financial backing from the British Council, they teamed up with Middlesex University and the Jindal Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship in India to develop the content of a course which would aim to encourage more people to start up social enterprises.

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