Graduate Certificate in Social Impact – 5 Questions with Cheryl Kernot from the Centre for Social Impact in Australia

The Centre for Social Impact (CSI) in Australia has a mission: to create beneficial social impact in Australia through teaching, research, measurement and the promotion of public debate. CSI brings together business, government, philanthropic and social sectors in a collaborative effort to build community capacity and facilitate social innovation. CSI is a partnership between the University of New South Wales, the University of Melbourne, Swinburne University of Technology and the University of Western Australia.

One of CSI’s primary offerings is the Graduate Certificate in Social Impact, which is open to students from the Centre’s different partner universities across the country. I recently had the chance to speak with Cheryl Kernot, Director of Social Business and head of teaching at the Centre for Social Impact, about the programme.

1. Why did you start the Graduate Certificate in Social Impact with the four different universities and how did you create it?

The decision to collaborate across four universities was made by the founding Board of the Centre for Social Impact. Their motivation was to increase knowledge of social impact for future business leaders, and they believed that business school courses were key to influencing this outcome in Australia.

The founding CEO of the Centre for Social Impact, based at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, made the initial contacts with the business schools of the two Melbourne partners, then one year later with the University of Western Australia School of Business. We are reviewing whether we might expand delivery of the Graduate Certificate through other partner universities in the future.

2. What is the Graduate Certificate in Social Impact and how has it been received?

The Graduate Certificate in Social Impact is a comprehensive ‘pracademic’ post-graduate qualification for emerging leaders across the government, business and social sectors. Students must complete four subjects from the six currently on offer. A seventh, Design for Social Innovation, will be added next year. The courses are:

·         Social Impact – Entrepreneurs and Social Innovation

·         Social Investment and Philanthropy

·         Leadership for Social Impact

·         Demonstrating Social Impact

·         Corporate Responsibility and Accountability

·         Social Impact Field Study

In 2011, we had approximately 70 students around the country enrolled in the Graduate Certificate. Students also take individual Graduate Certificate in Social Impact courses as part of other degrees, including MBA and Masters programs. Our students constantly give us a high evaluation on the course content and teaching, while providing regular feedback that they are applying their new learning in their existing workplaces or that it has driven their decision to seek a promotion using their new learning or to change jobs.

3. What were some of the challenges and how did you overcome them?

One challenge is that some universities include Graduate CSI courses in MBA teaching and therefore work on trimesters, whereas others work on semesters. So there’s a difference in the timing for the students. It was also a challenge for teachers at the beginning when cross partner teaching was required. Other challenges included generating agreement around course content, which involves having a program working group from all the partners, and meeting and reviewing content. Finally, its takes time to get course approval through universities. There is not much that can be done about that, other than being prepared.

4. What are your hopes moving forward?

First, students have requested that we articulate to a Masters in Social Impact reasonably soon. But a Masters, according to recent Federal Government changes, now involves 16 subjects. We need to reassess demand for a Masters, as the average cost is  now approaching $50,000. Second, I hope that we can work with other universities that have expressed interest in delivering the Graduate Certificate in Social Impact and exploring that potential.

5. What would you recommend for other schools in other countries thinking of doing a similar project or working with other schools on a common project.

I would recommend that a lot of exploratory conversation happen first about formal agreement around content and timetable delivery. I have found that what some business schools think is a relevant offering – because it includes the words corporate and sustainability – does not actually have the same focus on the social impact core element of our courses. Initial conversations and agreements are important.

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