Topic outline

  • Welcome to Sustainable Entrepreneurship, Markets, and Systems Change

    Can Sustainable Entrepreneurship act as an Engine for Sustainable  Development? - Izel Levi Coskun Blog

    I am excited to have you in this course. The world faces extensive sustainability issues and requires massive systemic change if we are to make a better world, both socially and environmentally.

    This course is broken down into two parts. Sessions 1-4 look at the ‘big picture’ of systems change. Given that the majority of the world’s economic activity happens through markets, it is critical to understand the role that market-based activity might have in causing this change. Though we will briefly talk about corporations, our primary focus is on entrepreneurship, as entrepreneurship is how new ideas enter the marketplace, and how society is pushed to change.  Of course, other actors - such as governments, NGOs, and academia - are also important, but they are not the focus of this course. When examining systems change, we will be very pragmatic about what is, and is not, possible. Make no mistake, systems change is hard.

    In session 5-12, we will change the level of our analysis, moving from the systems level down to the venture level. Here, our focus is understanding how and why sustainable entrepreneurship is hard for companies; it is critical to systems change, but it is hard. Indeed, entrepreneurs encounter a multitude of tensions whilst trying to use their ventures to cause systems change. For instance:

    • Though there are ‘win-wins’ out there, there are inevitably trade-offs between social, environmental, and financial goals; a venture may have to sacrifice some environmental value if it is to be financially sustainable.
    • There are temporal trade-offs; a venture that favours financial viability in the short term may be better positioned to accomplish social or environmental goals in the long term
    • ·Ventures must set boundaries on the system that they want to change; the world is full of problems, but systems change is hard, and a venture that tries to change too many things at once is almost certainly destined to fail. This may mean that ventures pay little attention to some issues that are very important, but are beyond their core focus

    With these tensions in mind, this course will take a pragmatic approach. Above all else, I want you to understand that sustainable entrepreneurship is brutally difficult (this is, after all, the third time I’ve mentioned difficulty). If it were easy, many systems would have been changed by now. We need to recognize this difficulty, because only once we recognize this complexity that we can address it.

    Finally, also note what this course is NOT doing: it is not helping you design your own sustainable start-up.  For this type of hands-on activity, check out these courses: