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Social Entrepreneurship and the MBA

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It shouldn’t be a surprise that social entrepreneurship is changing the face of the MBA, and rightly so. There’s never been a better time to get involved in nonprofits, and there’s never been a generation that’s been as interested in making a difference.

What’s This Social Entrepreneurship I Keep Hearing About?

millennialA decade ago, an MBA candidate who typed “social entrepreneurship” into a Google search engine would maybe discover a few thousand results. Now, that same MBA student would find millions of responses.

The truth is that millennials are leading the drive for social change, and that’s causing many MBA schools to rethink their programs. MBA programs today aren’t solely focused on training captains of industry and Fortune 500 CEOs; they’re also looking to create advocates for social good.

Why has There Been this Massive Change and Push for Social Entrepreneurship?

The recession has a lot to do with it. When the economy took a dive in the early 2000s, many career-minded individuals had to reevaluate their jobs and priorities. With so few jobs available, the decision for many was between taking a job with status and a high salary or taking a job that would make a positive social impact. For potentially the first time in recent memory, many professionals chose the route of social impact and passed those same ideals on to their kids.

Now, working in the nonprofit sector isn’t something that MBAs just “fall into” when they can’t find anything else. It’s a career field they actively seek and one that they are actively prepared for during their MBA career. Due to the increasing popularity of social entrepreneurship, MBA programs and nonprofits alike are having to rethink their outlook and start catering to successful business professionals who want to make a difference.

So, Where Should an MBA Candidate Apply if They’re Interested in Social Entrepreneurship?

There are multiple programs:

Harvard Business School

Harvard Business School has one of the most well-known and in-depth social enterprise focuses of all MBA programs. They’re best known for their Social Enterprise Initiative, which aims to educate, support, and inspire leaders across all sectors to tackle society’s toughest challenges and make a difference in the world.

The Initiative is a big part of the HBS MBA program and claims more than 500 books and published cases on the subject of social entrepreneurship. They’re also leading the way in research with more than 90 HBS faculty engaged in social enterprise research and teaching.

HBS’s focus on social enterprise is also apparent in their changing class structure. According to the Harvard Business Review, in 2005-2006, only 395 students were enrolled in social enterprise courses or independent projects. By 2010 -2011, that number grew by more than 30% to around 600 students. There’s no doubt that HBS is leading the way, but they’re not the only school or program.

Stanford Graduate School of Business

At the Stanford Graduate School of Business, MBA students can participate in the Center for Social Innovation. The Center offers MBA students the opportunity to earn a certificate in the Public Management Program and helps them focus their academic efforts on areas such as environment, international development, health care, and education.

Stanford also offers a six-day Executive Program in Social Entrepreneurship. The program is designed to help social entrepreneurs take enterprises and innovative models to the next level. The program includes in-class lectures, practical methodologies, and access to an international network of brilliant social innovators.

Kellogg School of Management

MBA candidates should also consider heading to the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern for their Social Enterprise at Kellogg (SEEK) program. The program was created in 2005 for students interested in diving into the intersection between management and society.

Kellogg School also gives MBAs a leg-up if they’re entering the nonprofit sector. To incentivize students toward social entrepreneurship, the School offers a Loan Assistance Program that helps graduates enter into careers in the public and nonprofit sectors by helping them to reduce their educational debt burden.

Is Now the Best Time to Study Social Entrepreneurship?

sustainabilityThere are many other programs and schools that are leading the way in social entrepreneurship and it’s thanks to the shift in attitudes. No longer is social entrepreneurship considered the “easy and nice” career-pathway with no tangible benefit. Now, it’s viewed as a legitimate professional choice.

The truth is that just like any business, nonprofits need to develop and keep a competitive edge to survive in today’s economy. They have to run themselves like any other business, which means they need qualified and dedicated business professionals with a variety of skills. MBAs have the people skills, management skills, financial analysis skills, and IT skills that nonprofit organizations find necessary not just to survive, but to thrive.

There’s never been a better time for MBAs to head into social entrepreneurship, and according to Net Impact—a global group that promotes socially and environmentally sustainable business practices—they’re taking advantage. 78% of MBAs feel their curriculum should incorporate more social and environmental themes. And one-third of today’s MBAs say that contributing to society is one of their top three career priorities.

What are you waiting for?

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About the Author


Kelly Vo    

Kelly Vo is a writer who specializes in covering MBA programs, digital marketing, and personal development.

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