Social Enterprise Gaining Ground

MBA student debt may be skyrocketing as school tuition and fees continue to increase. But it hasn’t diminished interest in social sector jobs and careers that are among the lowest-paying fields for graduating MBAs.

Many schools have significantly increased their course offerings in social enterprise in recent years, and students are showing an increasing interest in creating for-profit businesses with social missions or entering the non-profit sector.

According to the Harvard Business Review today (Feb. 28), cases and teaching notes produced by its Social Enterprise Initiative have grown to 607 in 2010-2011 from just 45 in 1995-1996. And students enrolled in social enterprise courses or independent projects have jumped to 600 from only 71 in 1995-1996.

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Several other schools, however, have seen similar growth. Not surprisingly, the leader among top business schools appears to be Yale University’s School of Management, long known for its dual approach of educating both for-profit and non-profit leaders. Between 2003 and 2009, Yale’s courses that include social benefit content increased to 95 from 45, according to an analysis by The Bridgespan Group (see chart below).

UC-Berkeley’s Haas School is next with 74 courses, up from 30. Next is Wake Forest University’s Babcock School follows Haas, with 68 courses that include social benefit content, up from 27. The University of New Mexico’s Anderson School of Management is credited with 43 courses, up from 39.

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The HBR article quotes Dr. Nora Silver, the director of the Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership at UC Berkeley Haas School of Management.  “This generation of students is the first that was required or expected to do community service in high school and college. These students grew up expecting to integrate social impact into their work — no matter what sector they join.” Haas now offers nine courses directly related to social or public sector management (up from eight when the Bridgespan study was completed).

  • The world of cleverly-phrased social entreprise buzzwords can mask a basic question: is there really a difference between a ‘social enterprise’ and socially-minded people just doing business?

    The question came up at a recent event. When asking a new startup founder if he was part of a social enterprise his response was that he and his co-founders preferred to think of themselves as socially-minded people starting a company. He was seemingly hesitant to commit his new venture to the accountability and cache of being a social enterprise.

  • dubious_1

    Many forms of social enterprise are driven by private organizations, don’t think that they are out of date just because they are in the business school. If you go into a microfinance organization or an impact investing fund, you will find a lot of people there that used to work in investment banking or at big banks prior, so it is not strange that these subjects would be at a schools where those people frequent. Plus, professors do teach across schools and students also cross register, so its not like the programs being in one school prevent other students at other schools from attending.

  • Xabier

    Companies are able to leverage tremendous resources at tackling societal problems. Beyond just money, which in many cases can be quite generous, companies can also leverage technology and contacts to assist nonprofit organizations. Those who lead such initiatives are often professionally rewarded in corporations. Elite business schools are training the future leaders of the world. For those who just want to make a buck, sales may be the more appropriate route.

  • RealAssetsFTW


  • Shaniqua James

    I have a question about this social enterprise stuff: why isn’t it being taught in the public policy schools, e.g., Harris, K-School, Maxwell and Woodrow Wilson, or the Social Work schools, e.g., Bryn Mawr and Columbia, rather than in the b-schools? My suspicion is that this is mere bad conscience about the financial crisis in 2008 and it is already stale by half a decade. Our role is to find a place for ourselves as effective economic agents in large organizations, i.e., to make money. On some interpretations, that makes everybody better off. In the alternative, nobody is better off, unless we throw in the towel and leave it to Obama to divvy everything up.