Problem-based learning for sustainability and health: developing a social business in your local community

2 min read
Problem-based learning

Imagine a course which not only informed, educated and inspired you, but also helped you realize your dream of starting up your own community business! 

In 2018 Gilbert Karareba and Caroline Baillie wrote about a vision for a new form of education which could be problem-based around local needs – that students would form their own businesses to supply local services – during their studies. We proposed that from day one until graduation, students work on community problems, undertake a healthy critique of the root causes of those problems, construct alternatives to the problems, trial and implement those alternatives, and evaluate results for improvement of service delivery. 

The ultimate goal of this kind of problem-based learning approach is to enable students to develop small businesses based on community problems. Class studies focus on how to better solve the identified problems and on how to make developed businesses more sustainable. Solutions would be culturally appropriate  – encouraging students to draw from local traditions whilst addressing community problems. Active, problem-based, and socially appropriate pedagogy is the recommended teaching approach and the kinds of problems that can be addressed might include: 

  • Access to clean water 
  • Sufficient appropriate, sustainable and safe housing
  • Sanitation
  • Sufficient and sustainable electricity supply 
  • Adequate and appropriate infrastructure
  • Addressing the waste challenge

Students would be tasked with developing their own community-run business during their studies as an assessable outcome of their studies – focusing on one of their identified issues. They would receive input and support in all of the above topics in order to do so, and aim to have a functioning business developed by graduation. 

Spring forward to the present and students with such a vision can now begin to realize this dream anywhere in the world through our new online Masters program MESH  – MS in Engineering, Sustainability and Health. All students bring with them a burning challenge, idea, problem, issue, or idea for a local community business and will work on this throughout their 20 months of study. They will learn about the intersections of food, water, waste, energy, environmental justice, sustainability and public health, and apply this to local problems through the support of a global, multidisciplinary team of scholars.  


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