The Best B-Schools For Social Entrepreneurship

MBAs aren't just for i-bankers and consultants anymore

It’s a philosophy that has become the motivation for an increasingly larger pool of MBAs that is helping to fuel a boom in social entrepreneurship. As greater numbers of young people dedicate themselves to social enterprise, more and more business schools are also getting into the act.

5) Harvard Business School

Harvard Business School

Harvard Business School

Harvard has what it calls a “Social Enterprise Initiative” that was formed in 1993 by former Dean John McArthur with the initial support of alum John C. Whitehead, whose career has spanned leadership positions in the private, for–profit, and nonprofit sectors.

Since the Initiative’s founding, its approach to social enterprise has encompassed the contributions any individual or organization can make toward social improvement, regardless of its legal form (nonprofit, private, or public sector).

Over the years, research forums and conferences sponsored by the Social Enterprise Initiative have examined a wide range of topics, including Nonprofit Strategy, Business Leadership in the Social Sector, Consumer-Driven Health Care, Global Poverty, Public Education, and The Future of Social Enterprise. Research generated from these forums and conferences has been published in special editions of leading academic journals, books, and other publications.

HBS says that more than 95 faculty members at the school have participated in social enterprise research and teaching. They’ve created over 400 social enterprise cases and teaching notes. Social enterprise perspectives are integrated into a broad range of classes and case discussions, reflecting a real-world blending of business and social issues, and courses focusing on social enterprise are incorporated into the curriculum.

Harvard’s course catalog contains 20 electives that either have a “central focus on social enterprise” or are “social enterprise related courses.” There’s “Learning and Governing High Performing Non-Profit Organizations” which offers an in-depth exploration of how to create, build and sustain a non-profit. The course explores what for-profit skills can be effectively transferred to the non-profit world and what ideas and frameworks can’t be used. Another popular course, “Business At the Base of the Pyramid,” was launched in 2006 after Harvard hosted a Global Poverty Conference a year earlier. From 2006 to 2009, Harvard professors developed nearly 20 new case studies to support the course alone. In 2009, the course expanded into two section with 162 students enrolled. Last year, in 2010, the course was expanded to three sections over two terms.

Each year for the past 14 years, Harvard has hosted a major business plan contest and for the past ten years that campus challenge has had a social venture component. In 2010, 27 teams of students competed against each other in pitching plans to create social value via non-profit, for-profit, or hybrid models (there were 83 teams in the more typical business plan competition). The top social venture team in 2010 was Urban Water Partners (UWP). Comprising a trio of Harvard first-year MBA students and a pair of medical students from the University of Utah, the team’s idea was to lease filters to water vendors in the Tanzanian city of Dar es Salaam to markedly improve access to clean drinking water for the city’s population of some 3 million people.

Harvard also offers what it calls an immersion experience program to MBAs that brings together first- and second-year students for five to 12 day projects off campus. In 2011, social enterprise will be the focus of these experiential learning projects in New Orleans, Rwanda, India, and Haiti, and several other business-type projects will incorporate social enterprise components.

For a complete listing of Harvard’s courses in social entrepreneurship, go here.

6) University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business

The new ultra-modern Ross School of Business

Ann Arbor, Michigan, has always been a town with a social conscience. This year the Ross School is hosting the 18th annual Net Impact Conference which organized around the theme: “2020: Vision for a Sustainable Decade.” More than 2,500 attendees are expected for the Oct. 28-30th event. The business school boasts a Nonprofit and Public Management Center which has a declared mission “to equip future leaders in the private, public and nonprofit sectors with interdisciplinary insight that can help them operate more effectively when working for or collaborating with nonprofit and public institutions.” That’s a big mouthful, for sure. More practically, the center offers managerial know-how, insight into the intersection among public, private and non-profit enterprises, and courses in how societies mobilize resources against key social challenges. The center is not only available to business school students but also to students of the university’s School of Social Work as well as the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

The center puts on conferences, seminars and discussions to help students interested in pursuing careers in the social sector. A couple of recent examples: Last February, the center along with the B-school’s consulting club launched a mini-case competition in which groups of two to four students pitched solutions to provide a new game-changing strategy for the Charles H. Wright Museum. In recent months, the center also arranged panel discussions on “Putting Your Creativity to Work for a Non-Profit Organization” and “Sealing the Deal: Salary and Benefits Negotiations for Non-Profit Job Seekers” along with a talk by design consultants from IDEO on “Design for Social Impact.” Just as important, a Class of 2011 student from Google has organized a $200,000 fund for students to invest for social impact, the first such MBA fund.

Two specific and more meaningful programs are worth a mention: the Board Fellowship and the so-called Domestic Corps. Let’s take the fellowship opportunity first. It matches up MBAs with the  governing boards of nonprofit organizations in Southeast Michigan. You’re not a full voting member of a board, but you do get to attend all board meetings as well as serve on a board committee for a full academic year from mid-October through April. During the stint, you’re expected to complete a board-level project for the non-profit and commit roughly the same amount of time (typically four to eight hours a month) as an actual board member. The schools says the program is designed “to create a cadre of professionals ready to take on board leadership roles upon graduation,” providing MBAs  “with firsthand insight into the workings and procedures of an actual board, as well as opportunities to contribute to the board’s success.”

Meantime, the Domestic Corps is the school’s organized effort to gain summer internships for students with an impressive array of social enterprises. MBAs are paid $10,000 for the 10-week internship. During the summer of 2010, students worked with a wide range of organizations, including DC Central Kitchen in Washington, D.C., Net Impact in San Francisco, Teach for America in New York, and Focus: HOPE in Detroit. These are pretty interesting and sometimes intense temporary dives into the non-profit world. For example, Lisa Ingmarsson, who graduates with her Ross MBA in 2011, worked with the Environmental Defense Fund and Walmart to drive sustainability in supply chains, while Chris Zwicke, who also is graduating with an MBA in 2011, evaluated the potential for expanding the EDF’s Climate Corps into China and India and developed a preliminary market entry strategy for a pilot program.

In the fall of 2010, the Ross School listed 15 “non-profit and public management” courses in its catalog, though quite a few are more generalized courses that aren’t really specific to the social sector. An example: “Managerial Writing Fundamentals” or “Persuasive Management Communication.” Strip away these general courses and there were just four courses in non-profit or public management: “Solving Societal Problems Through Enterprise and Innovation,” “Leading Non-profit Organizations,” “Urban Entrepreneurship,” and “Business Strategies for the Base of the Pyramid.” There are other options at the School of Public Policy, the School for Social Work, and the College of Engineering, among other university departments and schools.

For a complete listing of Michigan’s courses in social entrepreneurship, go here.