Nora Silver (center), with students and co-instructor Colin Lacon, in 2011.

Large Scale Social Change Course Wins Faculty Pioneer Award for Nora Silver

On October 26th, Nora Silver received the Aspen Institute’s Faculty Pioneer Award in recognition for her course, “Large Scale Social Change: Social Movements.” The award honors business school faculty who are teaching “business practices that help corporations confront society’s ‘grand challenges.’”

Creating and Teaching a Social Movements Course

The course was a response to a trend that Nora observed over her 12 years teaching at Berkeley-Haas. She recognized that this generation of students is hungry for a class where they can discuss issues and injustices that need to be addressed. Her work was recognized among a cohort of accomplished business faculty from around the world at Aspen’s Management Education Roundtable in October. From the Roundtable, she observed that management education is headed “to a more external focus on making a difference in the world we live and work in, and the skill set it will take to be successful.”

“A significant number of very smart people from business schools and industry are concerned about focusing management education on meeting real world social and environmental challenges,” Nora said.
Aspen Faculty Pioneer Award video.

In the course, students study and analyze social movements around the world and over time, what made them successful, but also where they have failed. Students focus on six different levers to create massive social change. In the course, student teams identify an issue that they are passionate about and design a social movement to address it. Students identify social levers they would use, how they would use them, and a two to three year plan that includes risks and remediation.

A History of Academic Innovation

This isn’t Nora’s first experience launching innovative curriculum. In 2015, she co-created a graduate level course called “Social Impact Metrics,” through a partnership with the Amgen Foundation. The course quickly attracted student interest from all over the Cal campus. Colin Boyle, Deputy Director of UCSF Global Health Sciences, has lead the student teams to provide outcome measurement strategies for cancer-focused nonprofits.

Social Impact Metrics course stories.

Nora also created Social Sector Solutions in 2006, an experiential learning course where students tackle complex problems for nonprofit, government, and social enterprise clients. In its eleven years, the course has developed a strong record of success with both students and clients. The focus on incorporating real world projects into her class was reinforced at the Aspen Roundtable. “I came away with the view that it’s primarily about experiential learning,” Nora said, “and about helping students get out of their comfort zones and apply their skills across business, public and social sectors.”

Nora speaker to the Social Sector Solutions class, 2016.

She started a course called “Cal Strategic Philanthropy” where UC Berkeley undergrads learn how to identify, research and select nonprofit organizations to receive a (real) $10,000 cash donation. The course moves students beyond the standard metrics to find the value and real impact of an organization. Some of her students from Cal Strategice Philanthropy as well as her co-instructor, Colin Lacon, are pictured in the top image from 2011.

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