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RSM2640H – Leading Social Innovation

General Information


Promotional Video

Applicable Major(s):
(c) = Core, (r) = Recommended

  • Business Design (r)
  • Leadership and Change Management (c)
  • Social Impact & Sustainability (c)

Instructor Bio

Nouman Ashraf is an Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream within the Organizational Behavior area at the Rotman School of Management. He possesses a broad range of professional, academic and research interests, with a specialized focus on enabling Integrative Thinking practice within organization life. For the last decade and a half, he has held progressively senior roles at the University of Toronto. He is a recognized thought leader in governance and has taught thousands of directors in the national Rotman program on Not for Profit Governance in partnership with the Institute for Corporate Directors since its inception in 2007. Winner of multiple Rotman Teaching Awards, Nouman focuses on the integration of three-dimensional leadership in the classroom. This innovative approach to learning actively encourages students and asks that they step out of the traditional role and actively engage in shaping course content.

In addition to his teaching work, Nouman advises the Ontario Ministry of Education on governance renewal for all of their school boards. His other consulting clients include Telus, Cliffs Natural Resources, Bayer, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the Ontario Trillium Foundation, United Way Toronto, and numerous post-secondary and healthcare institutions. At lunch time, he can be found at Massey College within the University of Toronto, where he mentors exceptional post-graduate students in his capacity as Senior Fellow.

Target Audience

Students interested in leadership, social innovation, the social economy, and sustainability will find this course valuable. Students who are interested in the application of core course concepts to real-life problems will also benefit from this course, as students will have the opportunity to work directly with not-for-profit organizations to solve unique business and social challenges.

Leading Social Innovation introduces students to the practice of deep learning and offers opportunities to engage with this concept in two ways. First, from having an open dialogue with diverse social entrepreneurs and leaders in the social economy and second, by working with and learning from existing not-for-profit organizations on current issues they are facing. This is an essential course for any second-year student who wishes to apply and integrate insights from various disciplines such as finance, strategy, organizational behavior and leadership to the social economy.

The most successful participants will be those curious about understanding emergent models of leadership, impact measurement, stakeholder engagement and systems-wide change. Previous experience in the not-for-profit and public sectors is not necessary; however, passion and curiosity for integrating across traditional silos to solve wicked problems a key asset. The course also emphasizes a business design orientation to thinking through these important issues.


There will be three Wednesday evening sessions, from 6:00-9:00pm on July 7th, 14th, and 28th.

In addition to the Wednesday evening class times, this course also meets ALL DAY on Saturday, July 24th and Sunday, July 25th between 9 AM and 4 PM. Please note that successful delivery of the final project will require meeting and collaborating with group members after the last classroom session.

Course Mission and Scope

In this course, students will explore conventional and emerging models of problem finding, framing and solving as it applies to the social economy. Students will hear from social entrepreneurs leading teams in the not-for-profit, public and private sectors. The course cumulates with a group project, where students will work with a partner organization on balancing a social disequilibrium.

This course is designed to broaden students’ ability to amplify organizational impact. Students will leave with an understanding of the unique challenges faced by organizations operating with a dual mandate of making a positive return on financial and social investments.

The focus of this course is on broadening your integrative abilities across disciplines by utilizing recent case studies, panel discussions with thought leaders and engaging in active reflection through peer-based learning. By the end of this course, participants will have the tools necessary to be able to effectively tackle the range of issues and opportunities that confront leaders daily and which impact society at large. Students will also leave with the skills that allow for continued learning outside of the classroom setting.

Evaluation and Grade Distribution

ComponentDue Date*Weight
Class ParticipationOngoing10%
Learning JournalsOngoing25%
Midterm AssignmentJuly 20, 2021 (TBD)25%
Final Assignment
(Group-Based Consulting Project)
August 16, 2021 (TBD)40%
*Dates are subject to change

Student Testimonials From Winter 2021 Term

  • “Leading Social Innovation was a course that truly provided the opportunity to think deep, be rooted by meaning and purpose, and continuously reflect. Throughout the course we had the opportunity to hear from industry leaders, learn from case studies, and be guided by key insight from Prof Nouman Ashraf. Every opportunity presented a new perspective, on Social Innovation. This course reminds us the significance of passion and purpose coming together, giving valuable insight on how they can be applied in our work, and daily lives.   

    Social Innovation is found in every aspect of our life, and it is our responsibility to make an impact and advocate the change where we can – whether that is in a corporate setting, NGO, or volunteer. LSI gave me the opportunity to truly reflect, realign my goals, and redirect me on the path of passion and purpose. We can all make a difference daily, and Prof. Ashraf’s course continuously reminds us of that.  

    If you want to be inspired and make a difference – take this course!”
  • “While signing up for the Leading Social Innovations course, I expected to learn established theoretical models on development and dissect case studies on social innovations. However, the course went far beyond my expectations as Professor Nouman tied in concepts from Business Design to help us build empathy for all stakeholders and address social problems more holistically. Almost every class introduced and provided us opportunities to have candid conversations with guest speakers who have made significant impact through their work and improved lives. The best part of this course was the fact that we got to partner and collaborate with local social innovators in helping them work through real problems their enterprises were facing.

    Take this course if you want an elevated classroom learning experience coupled with out-of-class real-world applications of models and concepts. If you have ever wanted to stretch your mindset and wondered how you may use your power and privilege to do good in the world, this is the course for you.”
  • “Leading Social Innovation illuminates Rotman’s core principles of diversity and inclusivity. It has allowed me to understand how together we can leverage our individual “uniqueness” to create something needed by society. As our world becomes more complex, it becomes critical to call on new perspectives, especially from those marginalized by the status quo. As a leader, it takes humility, empathy, and confidence to able to interact effectively with all of our stakeholders. This course allowed me to develop these behavioural qualities and put them into action to benefit a real client who is making real social change. It has been the perfect complement to my MBA education by providing a framework with which to create social value along with economic value.”

Last Updated: 2021-04-15 @ 9:08 pm