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The Rockefeller Foundation Global Fellowship Program on Social Innovation Comes to Cape Town

CAPE TOWN—The Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business has joined an international partnership to convene the second annual Rockefeller Foundation Global Fellowship Program on Social Innovation. The fellowship brings together 21 social innovators from around the world for four intensive learning modules over the course of a year.

The Rockefeller Foundation Global Fellowship Program on Social Innovation is designed to strengthen the capacity of leaders from the social or ecological sectors who are working to transform the systems we live in—political, economic, legal, educational, environmental, and cultural. The program challenges traditional notions of social entrepreneurship by focusing on system entrepreneurship—the goal is not just to help systems improve and adapt, but to fundamentally alter the systems that create problems in the first place.

The program was initiated and funded by The Rockefeller Foundation, and the program’s unique design and pilot phase were lead by Dr. Frances Westley, Chair in Social Innovation at the University of Waterloo. Partnering with the Bertha Centre for the program’s ongoing development and delivery are the Centre for Global Studies at the University of Victoria, the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University, and the Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience at the University of Waterloo.

“The Rockefeller Foundation congratulates the outstanding group of leaders selected for this fellowship program, who all demonstrate great commitment to developing transformative solutions to 21st century problems that result in more resilient systems, communities, and people,” said Dr. Zia Khan, vice president of initiatives & strategy at The Rockefeller Foundation. “The Foundation has a long history of innovation and deep commitment to building innovation capacity, and we believe that programs like this one are vital to help spark new thinking and approaches within the social and ecological sectors to accelerate meaningful change.”

What is System Entrepreneurship?

While social entrepreneurs drive solutions to social and ecological problems, system entrepreneurs work to transform the conditions that cause the problems in the first place. This work involves changing not only policies and programs but also beliefs, values, and relationships.

Because of the complexity of the challenges they face, system entrepreneurs typically work across multiple levels at the same time—linking grassroots projects to regional networks to national and international governance bodies. And while system entrepreneurs may focus on specific issues like climate change, economic justice, or health care, they see these issues not in isolation but as pathways for developing the overall resilience of their communities.

A Vibrant and Diverse Group of Social Innovators

Participants in the 2015 program are experienced leaders from a wide variety of social change organizations. They work on resilience initiatives in South and Southeast Asia, the Horn of Africa and the Sahel, and North and South America.

The fellowship program, with its unique emphasis on system entrepreneurship, offers participants the chance to deepen the reach and impact of their initiatives. Sarah Reed, who works on climate resilience issues in Southeast Asia and was a member of the inaugural fellowship cohort in 2014, describes her experience in the program:

“The fellowship program was a tremendous opportunity for me to step back from my normal work, to disrupt my conventional patterns of thinking and analyzing, and to reflect on how actors such as myself can contribute to systemic transformations. The four modules, delivered by a world-class team of researchers and practitioners on complex systems, are continuing to influence how I approach my work and life. Perhaps most importantly, I have gained a lifelong group of mentors and friends in the other fellows.” – Sarah Reed, who joined the 2014 Fellowship from ISET International.

See below for a full list of 2015 participants.

Leveraging Global Leadership on Social Innovation

The global fellowship program was originally developed in 2013, with support from The Rockefeller Foundation, by a team led by Frances Westley from the University of Waterloo in Canada. Westley is a prominent theorist whose work has been critical in illuminating the link between a system’s capacity for innovation and its ultimate social-ecological resilience. The team includes academics and practitioners with expertise in complex adaptive systems, social-ecological resilience, institutional change, and organizational development. The team also has a wealth of experience developing participatory learning programs for seasoned social change practitioners.

In 2014, the University of Cape Town’s Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship joined the program as lead partner. Established in 2011 at the only African business school ranked in the Financial Times top 100, the Bertha Centre has quickly become an important nexus of social innovation thought and practice in the Global South. It is the first academic center in Africa dedicated to social innovation research, teaching, and experimentation.

“Building on the Bertha Centre’s work with social entrepreneurs, we are excited to join three prestigious institutions in building capacity for system entrepreneurs as they seek to address root causes of complex challenges many of which we face in our region of the world. This goes beyond building solutions that often have to adapt to today’s system, but rather develop approaches that address the underlying context of laws, policies, cultures, and values that would allow us to affect transformative change,” said Dr. Francois Bonnici, director of the Bertha Centre.

List of 2015 Fellows and their organizations:

Abishek BharadwajAbishek Bharadwaj
Romi BhatiaRomi Bhatia
Manisha Rhajendra BhingeManisha Rhajendra Bhinge
Bijal BrahmbhattBijal Brahmbhatt
Mahila Housing SEWA Trust
Geoff CapeGeoff Cape
Amy ChesterAmy Chester
Rebuild by Design
Ahmet DawalakAhmet Dawalak
Mercy Corps
Kalim HannaKalim Hanna
Esther Wagaki MuchiriEsther Wagaki Muchiri
Cristina Navarrete MorenoCristina Navarrete Moreno
World Bank
Francisco Jose Noguera Cepeda
Comparamos con Columbia
Michael Oduor OnyangoMichael Oduor Onyango
Kisumu County Government
Shrashtant PataraShrashtant Patara
Society for Technology and Action for Rural Advancement
Oanh PhamOanh Pham
Centre for Social Initiatives Promotion
Umamaheshwaran RajasekarUmamaheshwaran Rajasekar
Taru Leading Edge
Sheila RoquitteSheila Roquitte
Swapnil ShekharSwapnil Shekhar
Sambodhi Research and Communications
Haileyesus Brook TadesseHaileyesus Brook Tadesse
Horn of Africa Regional Environmental Centre/Network
Mireille Tushiminina
Shalupe Foundation
Lina Maria Useche JaramilloLina Maria Useche Jaramillo
Alianca Empreendedora
Sasank VemuriSasank Vemuri
Climate Development Initiative for Asia


For more information, please contact:

Program Manager Sulona Reddy on

Dr. Warren Nilsson on 021 406 1425 or