SFU continuing studies social-innovation certificate helps students transform society

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      It’s not a stretch to suggest that Darcy Riddell wants to change the world. As the leader of the four-member team of instructors that designed SFU’s new social-innovation certificate, she is laying the groundwork for students to learn how to effect monumental societal changes.

      “Social innovation writ large could be about policy change,” Riddell explained in a phone interview with the Straight. “It could be about shifting the way money is used in society, through impact investing. It also has to do with how people engage with existing societal values. And how do we shift values so they become more conducive with thriving in our society, and tolerance, inclusivity, and sustainability?”

      It’s a tall order but one that Riddell has tackled in the past while working as an environmental campaigner with the Sierra Club and ForestEthics (now known as Stand), preserving the Great Bear Rainforest. Fellow instructors Julian Gonzalez, Lisa Gibson, and Kate Sutherland also have extensive experience bringing stakeholders together to address root causes of societal problems.

      According to Riddell, this type of work often involves engaging in conversation with people who have strongly entrenched perspectives. The social-innovation certificate program will give students an opportunity to work with instructors and peer mentors to apply innovative thinking to achieve positive long-term changes.

      “It’s a far cry from an undergraduate political-science course where you’re analyzing problems, or master’s or PhD work where it’s much more conceptual,” she said. “This is about how to engage with a problem or a challenge.”

      The program is offered part-time, with three-day modules taking place from Thursday to Saturday no more than once a month over eight months. According to Riddell, it adds up to 16 days of instructional time, which is supplemented by a practicum.

      The associate director of SFU’s community education programs, Shanthi Besso, told the Straight by phone that the social innovation certificate and other part-time certificate programs are offered in ways that accommodate working people’s schedules. Most are delivered at SFU’s Vancouver campus, but some take place at SFU Surrey and others are available online.

      Besso noted that SFU continuing education offers 26 different certificates, 10 programs, six diplomas, and more than 400 individual courses.

      “Our philosophy is really around creating accessible learning opportunities that open up new pathways for folks in their careers—that really acknowledge diverse ways of knowing and learning—and that make explicit some of the ways in which some communities, including indigenous communities, have been systematically excluded from educational opportunities,” Besso said.