“Complex social problems are beyond the capacity of any single organization – or sector -- to solve. This case-based course looks at different ways of structuring, managing, and leading inter-organizational collaboration. First, we theorize power itself. Second, we build a sophisticated understanding of debates regarding how structural social change actually happens…vs. how we may wish it happens. Third, we challenge our implicit mental models of what an “organization” even is. Then, we look at specific, real-world cases – relative success stories -- where relations and structures of power have been de- and re-institutionalized. The goal is to understand what managers, leaders, and activists can actually do, pragmatically, to foster such social, political, and cultural change. Central to the course is looking at organizations themselves as social and cultural constructions, as sites where larger political struggles over power get enacted. In other words: the course will de-romanticize “NGOs” or “Social Enterprises” and unpack them as instantiations of extant power relations and forms of structural inequality rather than heroic actors somehow immune from such things. Our goal in this course is not to identify which kind of collective effort is uniformly best – students seeking black-and-white certainty and infallible “tools” will be very disappointed. Rather, our aim is to understand the strengths, weaknesses, limits, and opportunities of different approaches to collective action, depending on program goals and the operating context. Students will leave the course armed with broad strategies, approaches, tactics, and historical, comparative knowledge about what has worked, in what contexts…and the understanding that when it comes to shifting power relations in sustained ways…the next challenge demands creative thinking, not application of past “best practice.”

Middlebury Institute, CA