Social Entrepreneurship: The Best Schools & Programs

by John A. Byrne on

In his 80th year of life, the famous English sculptor Henry Moore was asked a fascinating question by literary critic Donald Hall.

“Now that you are 80, you must know the secret of life. What is it?”

Moore paused ever so slightly, with just enough time to smile before answering.

“The secret of life,” he mused, “is to have a task, something you do your entire life, something you bring everything to, every minute of the day for your whole life. And the most important thing is: It must be something you cannot possibly do.”

The sculptor’s remarks represent a nicely packaged theory of a productive life: Throw yourself into something big that you believe in. Obsessively dedicate your life’s work to it. And make damn sure it’s ambitious enough to stretch you to the limits.

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. Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management now dangles $80,000 in seed money to a graduating student who launches a non-profit straight out of school that can compete for the prize. Berkeley’s Haas School has partnered with McKinsey & Co. so that McKinsey consultants act as coaches to student teams who do pro-bono work for local non-profits. Harvard Business School now says that it has about 90 faculty members–more than most schools have faculty–engaged in social enterprise research, teaching and programs. Since 1993, more than 500 books and case studies have been published by Harvard professors on social enterprise. “Interest in social entrepreneurship has exploded in recent years,” says Kim Corfman, vice dean for MBA Programs at New York University’s Stern School of Business. “We are seeing it in applications, in memberships in these clubs, and in volunteer service.”

Inspired by what Muhammad Yunus’ Grameen Bank has achieved in micro-finance and the remarkable results of Wendy Kopp’s Teach for America in education, many young people today see the MBA as a springboard into the social sector.

What can a would-be social entrepreneur learn in a business school largely designed for the for-profit world? Greg Dees, co-founder of Duke University’s Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship, puts it this way: “We’re not teaching them to have the personal characteristics required to be a successful social entrepreneur any more than a music teacher teaches the personal characteristics to be a gifted musician,” he said in a recent interview. “However, good teachers do more than teach. They also coax, encourage, inspire, reward, and model the kinds of characteristics associated with success. Though we don’t teach courage, for instance, we can inspire potential social entrepreneurs to act with courage by exposing them to people like themselves who have started social ventures. A teacher can draw out the potential of a student to be a social entrepreneur and most human beings have that potential if they want to exercise it.”

Truth is, the MBA degree has become increasingly versatile and is held by many well-known social entrepreneurs. A large number of high-profile social enterprises are led and championed by MBAs, from Habitat for Humanity International, Acumen Fund, and Alzheimer’s Association to the Center for Applied Philanthropy, Children’s Cancer Research Fund, and World Vision.

Which schools have the best programs to train social capitalists? For years, Yale University’s School of Management and Stanford’s Graduate School of Business had been the two big pioneers in this field. Stanford’s launched its now well-known Public Management Program in 1971. From its start in 1976, Yale’s Management School defined its mission differently from any other business school: to educate not only business leaders but also leaders for society.

Since that time, however, many other business schools have gotten into the social enterprise game, with full-fledged programs, concentrations, social venture plan competitions, and global experiences. The Skoll Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford’s Said Business School is a solid example of a relatively new program that is attracting the best and brightest to the social sector. It was founded in 2003 with a generous grant–the largest funding ever received by a business school for an international social entrepreneurship program–from Stanford MBA Jeff Skoll, the founding president of eBay. Each year, the center hands out fully-funded MBA scholarships to five highly impressive candidates who are named Skoll Skollars. In just seven years, the program has established itself as one of the best in the world.

U.S. News & World Report annually surveys business school deans and MBA directors and asks them to identify U.S. schools with standout specialty programs. We’ve taken that ranking in non-profit management, which lists only 11 schools, as a starting point for a deep dive into exactly what each of best is offering social entrepreneurs.
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  • http://poetsandquants.com/members/jbyrne/ John A. Byrne

    Jeff,

    Thanks for your comment. This will all come in time. I’m working on this piece and thought I would just put up what I have at the moment. Probably should have waited. Hope to have this complete by Monday.

  • http://poetsandquants.com/members/jbyrne/ John A. Byrne

    Jeff, we now have the links you suggested, though the story is still a work in progress.
    Best,
    John

  • http://www.bluestarsadmissionsconsulting.com Amy Morgenstern

    Mr. Byrne,
    I’ve already blogged on this post even though it is still in progress, as I found the content so interesting and enjoyed the writing very much. What I appreciate about the writing on your site is the way you employ an informative and insightful style on a platform (the Web) unsuited for sustained attention. I’ll be visiting frequently! Perhaps you would like to see my post: http://www.bluestarsadmissionsconsulting.com/2010/08/new-business-school-website-offers-in-depth-information-on-mba-programs/. I hope it does justice……Regards, Amy Morgenstern

  • http://poetsandquants.com/members/jbyrne/ John A. Byrne

    Thanks Amy! It’s all a work in progress.

  • http://www.bluestarsadmissionsconsulting.com Amy Morgenstern

    It is. The best way to be (unless there is a deadline involved). Take care.

  • http://www.quantnet.com Andy Nguyen

    Amy,
    “B school insider and gadfly David A. Byrne has just launched”. I believe his first name is John, not David.

  • http://www.bluestarsadmissionsconsulting.com Amy Morgenstern

    Thanks, Andy. My bad and fixed.

  • http://www.sse.org.uk Nick Temple

    Hiya – good list, though it is worth pointing out that social entrepreneurship has always been very much a global movement, not just a US-centred one.

    Also worth considering those who provide learning for social entrepreneurs outside the traditional educational system, to reach a broader audience and provide appropriate learning and support for entrepreneurial individuals.

    See http://www.sse.org.uk for more

    Cheers

  • http://poetsandquants.com/members/andrewk/ Andrew Krutz

    Very useful, thanks!

  • Matthew Lambert

    I appreciate that the classic generalist top ten schools are listed, but Babson College’s F.W. Olin Graduate School of Business, has long standing been the global leader in entrepreneurship, and should be considered in talks of social innovation in connection with its Lewis Institute. Babson MBAs are taught with values of entrepreneurial thought and action and look to both public and private sectors to fill market gaps and create new ventures. I like the general article idea and would just suggest that it may be worthwhile to consider schools under a wider lens.

  • http://www.trustedsports.org John Ballantine

    John,
    This is a great and informative piece. I am building a true social enterprise (For Profit and Non Profit) and expect both organization to be cash flow positive in 2012. The focus is around providing more access for kids in the world to play sports. I’ve started and exited successful startups in the past and believe having an MBA or two with a social entrepreneur background to ultimately run the enterprise is the way to go. Wondering if you have any suggestions of the best route to discover an appropriate candidate from one of the top 10 programs?
    Thank you!

  • http://poetsandquants.com/members/jbyrne/ John A. Byrne

    John,

    That’s a wonderful idea. I would contact the career services offices of several of the top schools and simply post the job with them. This will immediately get you the eyeballs of all the graduating students and also those looking for internships next summer. Frankly, I would make sure there’s enough work for you to employ two summer interns and then make a job offer to the best of the two when they graduate. Good luck.

  • Rachel

    Hi John,

    What a great article! I’m an undergraduate studying Social Entrepreneurship through a self-created program and it’s so exciting to see that some of the best schools in the country are formalizing social entrepreneurship programs.

    I see from the comments below that it’s still a work in progress so if you are interested in further expanding your article (or writing more on SE) I thought I’d share a couple of important resources.

    While NYU Stern is a great MBA program you should also look into the NYU Reynolds Program, hosted in the Wager School for Public Service (http://www.nyu.edu/reynolds/social/index.flash.html). While not a specific program of study, it is considered to be one of the most developed programs for SE in the country and it’s especially interesting because it really focuses on multidisciplinary approaches to social entrepreneurship.

    It also might be worth noting that Wagner and Stern are ahead of their time, providing NYU undergraduate students the opportunity to study social entrepreneurship as well with the Social Entrepreneurship Minor (http://wagner.nyu.edu/undergrad/minors.php#socialentreprenuership). As far as I know NYU is one of the only schools providing these courses for early higher education.

    Thought you and your readers might find this stuff interesting. Hope it helps.

    Best,

    Rachel

  • http://poetsandquants.com/members/jbyrne/ John A. Byrne

    Rachel,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and knowledge here.we’ll be writing a lot more about this topic in the near future.

    Best,
    John

  • Karen

    Any update or revision to this list since posting?

  • http://poetsandquants.com/members/jbyrne/ John A. Byrne

    Karen,

    We’ll update shortly. A new list from U.S. News comes out this month.

  • Jennifer Kramm

    Helpful insight John, I appreciated the overview and the details of the course offerings. I’m just beginning my search for the right school and I’m glad I started here.

  • Ashvika Dhir

    This is great Article. I am senior in high school and have created blogging Hub for social causes. I am looking for some professor  of social entrepreneurship to become a mentor to my me and my blog. I have Chair  marketing professor at  the Wharton Business school who has agreed to be my adviser but suggested to also contact professors of social entrepreneurship. 

  • Sharon

    For those of us who can’t add another $150,000+ in student debt to what we’re already trying to repay, are there any reputable programs that are actually affordable?

  • Daniel F

    You should take a tool at BYU–Brigham Young University.

  • Nick
  • http://www.facebook.com/tessajjackson Tessa Jackson

    First, I want to note that in your review of the social entrepreneurship curriculum at Haas, you failed to include courses like Social Finance, Social Investing and other courses offered through the school’s Center for Responsible Business that are also good preparation for social entrepreneurs. However, if you’re evaluating a school’s ability to develop “social entrepreneurs” solely by the courses grouped into a social entrepreneurship track, then you’re missing the whole notion of social entrepreneurship or how social entrepreneurs are developed. As a Haas MBA, and an early student of “social entrepreneurship” (I was in the first cohort of the REDF program Jed Emerson created that became a template for social entrepreneurship), I can tell you that the culture and MBA experience at Haas are about using one’s talents, training and education to have a meaningful impact in business and on society, and that philosophy permeates into almost every course in the MBA program—not just the one’s that are labeled “social entrepreneurship”. Even the school’s guiding principles are about being innovative and considering the greater good when making business decisions.

    When I chose to attend Haas over a decade ago, I did so because I wanted an MBA academic experience where I could learn how to apply traditional business principles to achieve social objective but not in the context of a nonprofit setting. At the time, no one was calling it social entrepreneurship, and even after I left Haas I was just calling it “the way Haas MBA’s think and approach business.”

  • http://twitter.com/subtletea Sameer Khandelwal

    Sharon, you have 3 options that I can think of:
    1) Apply to schools that provide scholarship. Ex. Skoll Skolars in the article
    2) Inquire into prospective schools about waivers. Many schools waive off tuition for students who enter the non-profit space
    3) If #1 and 2 do not work out, evaluate if an MBA is the best way forward. Would an internship or a paid stint at an existing non-profit or social venture be a better move?

    A 4th bonus option are free courses at Coursera, eDx & Udacity.

    Good luck and happy hunting.

  • currentyalie

    As a current student at Yale SOM, it needs to be said that the school is fantastic for the non-profit sector, but not as much for the social entrepreneurship or social enterprise sector. They are two very distinct industries and SOM does not come close to offering the support and resources that I have heard MIT and Stanford do. To sum up: SOM – great for non-profit work; not for social entrepreneurship.

  • OhDenny

    Not sure if this person is actually an SOMer. I’ve never heard anyone say this about the program here. Take a look at the Global Social Enterprise program, our ties to the Aspen Institute, B-Lab, Agora Partners, dozens of venture philanthropy and social impact investment firms. We have a dozen SOMers in a mechanical engineering course that is studying the inventing process of micro-franchisable inventions in the developing world. We have economic development consulting firms coming to campus to recruit, considering us their core school. We have our Social Impact Lab speakers series, the loan-forgiveness and internship fund for folks who work for social enterprises or B-Corps, like Ecofiltro, (where a 2013er worked last summer), or Etsy, (where I’ll be working this summer).

    Apologies if you are an SOMer. I am just stunned as I find it hard to believe you weren’t privvy to these resources which are literally advertised all over campus. If you are here, let me know and we should go out for a drink some time.

  • Hank

    BYU’s Ballard Center has an AMAZING social entrepreneurship program – and BYU is cheap!

  • prospectiveSE

    It would be great to see this list updated!

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