“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
 - Margaret Mead

Community Organizing and Social Activism 

Reflections for Social Change

What is COSA?

COSA – Community Organizing and Social Activism – is more than a service-learning reflections course; it is an academic program created and facilitated by IPSL, designed to give globally minded students a foundation in the history and key practices of community building and civic engagement worldwide, from domestic and international volunteerism, to community organizing, to grassroots social movements and activism.


Similar to traditional international service-learning programs, students in the COSA program engage as partners in direct service with community-based organizations in their country of service.  However, one of the many things that makes the IPSL COSA program unique is that they also enroll in complementary online and in-country coursework designed to provide them with a thorough understanding of and context for their service and future organizing efforts. Classes will cover topics ranging from local infrastructures for social change (non-governmental entities, social movements, etc.) to effective practices for leading and participating as a community organizer or activist.  Students learn from and reflect on their in-country experiences, ultimately preparing them to become civic leaders upon their return home, addressing needs in their own communities using global, multi-cultural tools and practices.


It is important to note that, like ethically-practiced service-learning, COSA does not encourage or facilitate supplanting or replacing local leadership.  COSA students will not participate in nor attempt to lead social activism efforts abroad.  Instead, they will learn *from* local movements in-country, in the classroom and through instructor-led activities in the field, in an effort to acquire knowledge and practices that they can implement in their own communities upon return home.


Why are COSA courses of interest to students?

There are several reasons why the COSA program is especially appealing to today’s students.  First, for students in the United States, American communities nationwide are experiencing a growing resurgence in civic activity, from online advocacy to on-the-ground protests.  These social movements – and their end goals of such things as greater equality and equity – directly impact students and their families, especially students of color, first generation students, immigrant students, and LGBTQIA students.


Second, there is ample evidence demonstrating that peaceful social movements are highly successful in creating change worldwide.  Even in countries where voluntary action is more informally structured, there is still community organizing and social activism taking place in one form or another.  It is therefore critical that students seeking to build their careers in global change know what these models are and how they work in order to be effective in their chosen fields.  Similarly, regardless of their career path, learning and developing community organizing and activism skills expands the slate of abilities for graduates to more effectively engage in empowerment and leadership in a variety of settings.


What will students learn in COSA courses?

Coursework in the COSA program focuses primarily on three key areas: 

  • What is civic engagement, community organizing, and social activism? 

  • What does it look like in the United States and abroad? 

  • How might students engage in these activities – utilizing new skills and understanding while also leveraging international experiences – upon return home?

In the undergraduate online course, students will learn about the following topics:  


  • What is international service (and how does it compare to domestic service)? 

  • How to be an ethical service partner 

  • The role of local leadership 

  • What is COSA and what are the effective practices of COSA?

  • What does it look like in the US vs. abroad? 

  • How can students learn from indirect service or service abroad?

    • What is an appropriate role for students while in-country? 

    • How can students leverage what they learn abroad to create change upon returning home (as a leader and/or activist)?


Whether taught online or virtually - by international faculty, scholars or scholar-practitioners - students learn the following: 

  • Cultural and social norms, history, political structures, etc. of their country of service.

  • Social institutions and how non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and volunteers work within them (and how they relate to government) 

  • Domestic service in-country including how to be an ethical partner

  • History and current state of international volunteering in-country 

  • History and current state of COSA in-country (and how they are informed by local norms and institutions) 

  • Appropriate COSA roles for outsiders 

  • Leveraging what they’ve learned and lessons to implement upon return home


In both courses, students engage in challenging, thoughtful reflections activities to help them root their in-country experiences in their academic learning as well as place their service and cultural experiences into the context of their own personal and professional goals and perspectives.  These activities include such things as writing journals and essays, engaging in informational interviews with local and global leaders, and participating in classroom activities that encourage personal reflection through individual and group participation.