Lean Startup Principles for the Social Sector

Apply the innovation methods from Silicon Valley to social issues

Course Details

  • Price: FREE
  • Start Date: February 25, 2020
  • Time: 2 hours/week
  • Duration: 5 weeks

What You’ll Learn:

  • Uncover how social enterprises and organizations successfully run experiments, pivot, and remain lean and innovative while ethically serving their customers and prioritizing social impact
  • Use the value proposition canvas to map out your customers’ pains, gains, and jobs to be done
  • Create and test hypotheses to refine the value proposition of your enterprise or initiative


In this course, you will learn how to test, validate, and adapt your vision of change to ensure you’re creating the greatest impact and meeting the needs of your customers and stakeholders. 

This course is ideal for experimenting with lean methodologies to start a new enterprise or build a new program within an existing organization. The lean approach relies on validated learning, experimentation, and iterative product releases to shorten product development cycles, measure progress, and gain valuable customer feedback.

These principles aren’t just for high tech startups but tools for any innovator, especially those determined to solve the world’s toughest social problems.


  • Team-Based Course: We strongly encourage (but do not require) that you form a team of 2-8 people to take the course with. It works best to find friends or coworkers who can meet in person. Need to find team members? You can post to the discussion forums a month before the course starts.
  • Platform: NovoEd (+Acumen developed the course. We host this course on the NovoEd platform.)
  • Timing: This course will be open for 5 weeks. You can work through the materials at your own pace during the time the course is open. There are no required times for you to log in. There will be suggested deadlines for you to complete each assignment. The final deadline is the final day of the course.

Course Syllabus

PDF icon Download (2.54 MB)
  • 4 reading guides highlighting case studies and examples
  • 4 workshop guides to help you apply lean methods to your own projects
  • Instructional videos from Sasha Dichter, Acumen’s Chief Innovation Officer and Steve Blank’s Lean Launchpad Course
Section 1: What are Lean Startup Principles?
  • Video: Introduction to the Course from Sasha Dichter, Acumen’s Chief Innovation Officer
  • Video: What is the Lean Mindset?
  • Reading: Avoiding Wasted Time and Wasted Effort
  • Reading: What are Lean Startup Principles?
  • Reading: The Build-Measure-Learn Loop
  • Reading: What Lean Does Differently
  • Reading: Lean Principles for the Social Sector
  • Reading: What Lean Startup is NOT
  • Reflection: Check Your Understanding of Lean Principles
  • Activity: Developing Your Value Proposition
  • Activity: Uncovering Business and Impact Assumptions
  • Activity: Assumptions Grid
  • Activity: Hypothesis Generation
Section 2: Customer Discovery
  • Video: An Overview of Customer Discovery from Steve Blank
  • Reading: Discovering Your Customers
  • Reading: 4 Stages of Customer Development
  • Reading: An Acumen Example from Pakistan
  • Reading: Getting Out of the Building
  • Reading: 10 Tips for Talking to Customers
  • Case Study: Watsi
  • Case Study: Frontier Markets
  • Activity: Identify Your Target Customers and Stakeholders
  • Activity: Build an Interview Guide
  • Activity: Conduct Your Customer Interviews
Section 3: Designing Minimum Viable Products and Lean Experiments
  • Video: Introduction to Minimum Viable Products from Steve Blank
  • Video: Pains, Gains, and the MVP
  • Video: Testing Hypotheses
  • Reading: Types of Minimum Viable Products
  • Case Study: Saral Designs
  • Case Study: Markhor
  • Case Study: Fasal
  • Case Study: Kidogo
  • Reading: How is an MVP different from a pilot program?
  • Reading: Key Elements of Testing with Customers
  • Reading: Moving from MVPs to Experiments
  • Reading: 3 Types of Experiments to Try
  • Reading: Avoid Vanity Metrics
  • Reading: The Ethics of Experiments
  • Reading: 3 Best Practices for Ethical Experiments
  • Activity: Experiment Grid
  • Activity: Minimum Viable Product Design
  • Activity: Run an Experiment
Section 4: To Pivot or Persevere?
  • Video: What’s a Pivot?
  • Video: Final Advice from Sasha Dichter, Acumen’s Chief Innovation Officer
  • Reading: Making Sense of What You Learn from Experiments
  • Reading: To Pivot or Persevere?
  • Case Study: Linkage
  • Activity: Methods to Synthesize
  • Activity: Update Your Value Proposition Canvas
  • Resources: Further Reading
The course already started. Can I still enroll?
You can enroll up to 2 weeks after the start date of the course.
When will the next course be offered?
We offer our courses a few times a year. Sign up for our emails to be notified of the next time the course will be offered.
Do I get a certificate for this course?
You will earn a Statement of Accomplishment if you complete 5 of 6 assignments, including the final assignment, by the last day of the course.
How do teams work?
We recommend you find friends or colleagues for your team that you can meet with in person each week. Each team member should register for the course individually. You’ll then be able to form your team on the NovoEd platform once the course begins.
Do I have to complete the course with a team?
While we believe taking the course with a team will give you the best experience and chance of completing the course, it is possible to complete the course individually if you wish.
What should I expect from the assignments?
You will create a Life Map, develop your own personal story, integrate it into a larger presentation, and record your presentation for feedback from your classmates. You should allocate at least one hour a week to complete each assignment.

Supported By

Sasha Dichter is Acumen’s Chief Innovation Officer. In this capacity, he oversees Acumen’s work in Leadership and the spread of ideas. Sasha is also a noted speaker and blogger on generosity, philanthropy and social change.

What People Are Saying

Afzahl Habib

"The lean startup course was a game-changer for us. It challenged our thinking, got us to approach the problem in new ways and gave us confidence to take our idea and put it into action. The result: Kidogo!"

Afzahl Habib, Co-founder of Kidogo