UCT, social innovation NGO launch free course

RLabs creator Marlon Parker with Francois Bonnici, of UCTs Bertha Centre at the launch of their sixth free online course.

A social movement called RLabs, which was started in a garage in Bridgetown, Athlone, was the inspiration for a massive open online course, or MOOC, developed by UCT, according to Professor Francois Bonnici, the founding director of a centre the university established to nurture innovation and entrepreneurial savvy.

MOOCs are free online courses and have no entry requirements. Anyone with an internet connection can take part. In early 2015, UCT became the first African university to offer MOOCs on international MOOC platforms, thereby joining many leading international universities.

It’s sixth course, Social Innovation: Becoming A Change Maker, was launched at the UCT Business School in Green Point last week. UCT deputy vice-chancellor Professor Sandra Klopper said: “In developing UCT’s MOOC strategy, we have been mindful of the scarcity of contributing universities from the global south, and from Africa in particular. We believe there is an opportunity to share knowledge generated from our leading academics and researchers, and to showcase the university’s rich array of intellectual and teaching resources.”

The latest course is somewhat different from the other MOOCs the university has developed, because its content will also reach people who don’t have internet access, thanks to a partnership with RLabs.

Professor Bonnici, of UCT’s Bertha Centre, said: “We are excited about pioneering a new kind of MOOC that will reach deeper into communities. It will also advance access to quality education in order to catalyse social change.”

The Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship is the first academic centre in Africa dedicated to advancing social innovation and entrepreneurship. It was established as a specialised unit at the UCT Graduate School of Business in late 2011.

RLabs creator Marlon Parker said while internet access was increasing, data costs were still high, especially in South Africa. So RLabs will be taking the new MOOC “offline” to deliver it in communities, halls, homes and schools.

He welcomed the partnership with UCT and the Bertha Centre. The centre had done pioneering work and research into social innovation, and the collaboration would make world-class content available to communities who could not afford the high costs of tertiary education or formal online courses.

“This collaboration also enables us to fulfill a broader mandate to see more changemakers driving social change globally,” he said.

RLabs started in Athlone and is now in 22 countries around the world and worth more than R10 million. Now partly funded by government grants, it uses disruptive technology and innovation to teach young people skills, support them and give them a sense of community.

“Social innovation starts with the people,” said Mr Parker. “It is about the people being in those challenges on a daily basis and being given the opportunity to change something.”

Creating a safer space for our children, a more inclusive society or increasing access to quality education, are things many of us wish we could achieve but just don’t know where to start.”

He said RLabs was working on projects using alternative currency such as BitCoin and it had partners helping to develop start-ups and new ideas for entrepreneurs on the Cape Flats and the townships. “For me thinking about social innovation is thinking about how you can bring about change that has a real social impact, doing something different.

“We get caught out with terminologies that we sometimes forget that the essence of social innovation is about people. It’s about how can you do things that can improve the lives of people,” said Mr Parker.

“In most communities our goal is to have people have access to learning opportunities at no cost to them. The big thing for them is to be able to improve their livelihoods. We are encouraging social innovators who have an idea and want to turn it into a reality can come to a 12 week programme where we provide them with support. They work with us and the Bertha Centre to make a change in their society.”

* For more information, call RLabs at 021 699 1453.