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How to Change the World

How can we use the things we share in common to address some of the most challenging problems facing the world? This course examines issues concerning poverty, the environment, technology, health care, gender, education and activism to helps us understand better how to initiate positive change.


Course at a Glance

About the Course

How to Change the World has its origins in the Social Good Summit held at the 92nd Street Y in New York. The summit brought together some of the world's most creative entrepreneurs, writers, academics and political leaders to discuss ways innovative thinking and technology can address pressing global challenges.  Beginning from talks, panels and conversations from the summit, we will add lectures, on-line discussion groups, hangouts and readings to explore the issues in politics, technology and the environment in broader academic and historical contexts. We will then discover together what actions we can take to make a difference.    


Course Syllabus

How to Change the World examines how we can develop “social goods” and use them to create networks of progressive change. Classes will explore the meaning of “social goods” and then address the following topics: Poverty and Philanthropy; Climate Change and Sustainability; Women, Education and Social Change; Social Networks, Education and Activism. Each week will be structured along the following questions: 1. What do we know?  2. Why should we care? 3. What can we do?

At the end of the class students should have a clearer understanding of these global issues, and they should develop strategies for working with others to begin to address them. Our aim is simple and bold: to put together the facts, the energy and the actions to make a real difference in addressing some of the major problems confronting the world today.

Course Syllabus

Week 1: What are Social Goods? What is the Commons?

Week 2: Poverty and Development

Week 3: Climate Change and Sustainability

Week 4: Finish Up Papers, Catch Up on Reading and Viewing

Week 5: Disease and Global Health Care

Week 6: Women, Education and Social Change

Week 7: Looking Back, Looking Forward (Catch up on Assignments)

Recommended Background

No recommended background is required; all are welcome.

Suggested Readings

There will be weekly readings provided as PDFs or as links. Materials will range from philosophy to fiction, from economics to art.

Course Format

Each week there will be lectures, many of which will be put together from presentations at the Social Good Summit. Michael Roth will introduce the topics and raise questions that we will consider together as we come to terms with these contemporary challenges. Other resources from Wesleyan, the 92nd St Y, Mashable and the United Nations will be deployed to enrich the course content.

Students will be encouraged to participate in the discussion forums, and to meet together when possible to discuss the issues raised in the class. Students will write short essays on each week’s topic, and these will be assessed by other students in the class. Students will consider “action plans,” concrete steps they can take to do something positive in relation to the global challenges discussed in the class.


  • Will I get a Statement of Accomplishment after completing this class?

    Yes. Students who successfully complete the class will receive a Statement of Accomplishment signed by the instructor.

  • What is the Social Good Summit?

    The Social Good Summit is a three-day conference that unites a dynamic community of global leaders to discuss a big idea: the power of innovative thinking and technology to solve our greatest challenges.  The summit is presented by 92 Street Y, Mashable, the United Nations Foundation, the United Nations Development Programme, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Ericsson.