A Social Enterprise Guy Explains Why He’s Getting An MBA

rainbow-slinkyOthers: So why are you leaving San Francisco?

Me: I’m going back to school to get my master’s.

Others: Oh, in what?

Me: I’m heading east for an MBA.

Others: …ok…

Me: The plan is to do non-profit management! I’m still ME!!!!

Others: …phew!

And so the conversations have gone over the past few months. It’s been quite amusing (though somewhat awkward) when people give me the stink eye. An MBA is not exactly an “acceptable” or common degree among “my people” (educators, San Franciscans, etc.), so it’s no surprise that I go into ramble mode to back-track and explain myself.

It’s been an interesting process – explaining my reasons and my goals to people. Basically, I find myself forced to recap the process by which I came to believe I needed MBA in 5 minutes. In essence, I compress my 5 months of research, reflection, and learning into a palatable and bite-sized chunk to help others experience the same “aha!” transformation that I have.

People in San Francisco, especially those that make up my friend group and colleagues, are liberal do-gooders. An MBA is perceived as quite the opposite type of degree. As a result, people’s reactions waver from confusion to fear. My response is to alleviate people’s fears that I’ve become The Man. But I am in many ways perpetuating the stereotype that an MBA is a single-purpose degree and that I am an exception. By holding myself apart as a “special case” in the MBA world because of my plan to continue to work in education, to do good, I have silenced the ever-growing do-gooder aspect of the MBA degree. Sure, the key for me is to do good, and do it well, but I believe an MBA can serve all of us, and in recent years hopes to serve all of us, in doing work that is socially responsible.

Over the past 6 months I have wrestled with the questions of my own perceptions of MBA, particularly lately as I find myself observed through the prism of other people’s scrutiny and doubt. Is it so bad to get an MBA to do the more typical work of financiers and consultants and hedge fund managers? I don’t believe it’s inherently wrong to do these things, but there’s definitely a “prove-to-me-that-you’re-good” mentality that I have. It’s not surprising that this kind of skepticism comes to mind: it’s the same reaction that people have toward me. We liberal types are so judgmental.

As I prepare for my journey at school, I know that I need to remind myself that many people getting an MBA have a social impact desire and that there are many paths to achieving good. And I am easily falling into the mindset that only at Yale does this happen. In fact, we (but mostly I!) need to be talking about an MBA as a degree for society and to look at those who use an MBA for purely selfish reasons as the exception.

And don’t get me wrong – I don’t think that the people who pursue their selfish goals are inherently wrong, it’s just that the perception of an MBA is sorely outdated. I believe we can nurture a new perception, a more vivid and accurate perception, if we draw attention to the diverse interests and goals of MBA students. And that’s what’s so great about the MBA degree – it’s such a versatile and transferable degree. We can be pilots, chefs, CEOs, teachers, and zookeepers both before and after our degree!

Sassafras is a 30-year-old MBA applicant who works for a San Francisco-based non-profit organization with a primary focus on youth development and education. With a 730 GMAT and a 3.4 grade point average from a highly ranked liberal arts college, he currently blogs at MBA: My Break Away? His previous posts for Poets&Quants:

A Non-Traditional Candidate Reflects On Why He Wants An MBA
The Round One Days Dwindle Down To A Precious Few
Common Questions From The Helpless, Hapless & Hopeless
The Business School Waiting Game
Cultivating Great Leaders or Great Changers: The Mission of Business Schools
Undoing My Scarcity Paradigm
A Partner’s Perspective On The MBA Application Journey
My Round Two Strategy
Rejection From Stanford–An Acceptance From Yale
An Acceptance From Kellogg Leads To Some Soul Searching
Weighing Kellogg vs. Yale: Which School Would You Choose?
Now Into The Next Stage Of His B-School Path: The Network

Why I’ve Decided To Pass On A Higher Ranked School & Go To Yale
 The Words Behind Those Admission Essay Questions
An Honest Letter To Anxious Round Two Candidates
What Things Can Give An Admissions Committee Doubts About Your Application?
How I Came To Believe I Needed An MBA Degree
Celebrating The One-Year Anniversary Of Taking The GMAT

  • PD, plenty of people still speak English in the bay area.

  • I find how this comment get political when it does not have to be. I left the bay area to get a an MBA elsewhere, I get the same confused looks when I tell people that I am now back to being a student, it is almost as if the the word student is reserved for people under the age of thirty. I have got to the point now where I no longer explain what I do, just say I am studying and stop there, just too much effort explaining why do for another degree and build up so much debt, plus spending most of the week and weekends studying and wrestling with headaches and going over stuff which my Brain is to tired to absorb sometimes.

  • Transformational MBA

    MBA is perhaps the only profession in the world that lets you become whatever you want to be.

  • Sandra Hamilton

    Canada’s now has an MBA in Social Enterprise Leadership, the first of it’s kind in Canada and quite possibly in the world. I have worked independently as a business consultant for over 15 years. Most of that time spent advising Olympic athletes on their transitions from sport to business. I have just enrolled in a fully online Executive MBA program offered through the Sandermoen School of Business at The University of Fredericton and yes Sassafras, I know exactly what you are talking about.

    However, the beauty of social enterprise is that is can unite the most unlikely of groups. Left and right, social activist and investor, community worker and entrepreneur. We only need to find a 3% overlap to work together and we will get more done together than we will in our silo’s.

    I know that the first cohort will be made up of an incredible group of thinkers from very diverse backgrounds. First course starts this fall, 2013 and I would love to see some USA students in the group. If you have internet access, you can apply to enroll in this MBA program. More at http://www.SocialMBA.ca

  • OhDenny

    Wahoo! Flame wars are fun! A quick rebuttal, because I can’t help myself.

    Painting San Franciscans with a broad brush like ‘yuppy hippy liberal-do gooders’ [sic all over the place] is overly reductive, as is painting those who want to do good with their business degrees soft on American values. There are plenty of Republicans and Libertarians in the Bay Area just as there are plenty of liberal hippies in Raleigh and OKC and Bozeman. A good business education should give you both perspectives so you can make the best choices for your company/organization in the context of the real world – in which BOTH SIDES exist. I have learned a great deal from my conservative classmates and friends, and our conversations have been two-way dialogues instead of diatribes. That is what school is about.

    Moreover, the bottom of the pyramid is where Social Enterprise typically exists, and business that caters to those in need, those underrepresented, those oppressed, is not only business that can change the world, but business that is potentially wildly lucrative. Making money and solving big problems are ideas that aren’t mutually exclusive, just like hating regulation and living in Silicon Valley, or being gay and living in Idaho. I’m very glad that I’m going through school and that it is providing me with these extra perspectives, and helping me practice viewing the world through alternate frames. The narrow worldview here is not only bad for you, it’s bad for business, and bad for America.

  • Tylrt

    I fully respect both liberal and conservative perspective, because both bring very valuable ideas to the table.

    At the risk of getting into a flame war – and because I know there are going to be tons of people telling you how wrong you are – I will simply say:

    I really hope that isn’t your real opinion.

  • CampusCrusade

    Great post. You forgot all the nonsense about climate change and global warming. You also forgot the assault on Christianity and the support for alternative lifestyles.

  • PatriotDomminic

    I’m sorry but I’m not impressed by liberal-do gooders and their like….we could frankly do with less of them and less of San Francisco and its phony, self-righteous inhabitants.

    These yuppy hippy liberals are the reason why this country is in the putrid state it is in. They want open borders and enforce no control on immigration so we can let in all the third world inhabitants into our country. Does anyone even speak English anymore in California? All I hear is either Spanish or some strange Indian dialects. These “do-gooders” want to tax every cent out of every dollar so that they can make people even more dependent on our pathetic and bloated government.

    This country wasn’t built on all this liberal nonsense. But this is exactly what b-schools want to hear. God forbid they admit a red-blooded American who actually wants to go out there and start a business and make some money…god forbid a man actually has an ambition to do something and not ask the government to do something for him.

    I have really had it with these so-called liberal do-gooders and their nonsense. Nothing that they ever do makes a damm difference. All they do is perpetuate myths of racism and bigotry that, for the most part, do not really even exist in this country (relatively speaking — I acknowledge that isolated incidents do happen). Would these folks rather live in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan? Do you know how well you guys have it here in the US??? Stop blaming this country and stepping all over our traditions and culture.

    This is the greatest nation on earth — it was built by real Americans who fought and died for the flag. They fought and died so that these San Francisco hippies can parade around and pat themselves on the back for promoting love and peace. And now these “do-gooders” want to go after our military for sexual harassment and rape; it’s a systematic move to emasculate our country and shift the focus away from a failed presidency of his holiness from Hawaii or wherever he is really from.

    I really don’t get it. Liberals hate money. They hate America. What are they doing in b-school? Why do they have to keep messing it up for everyone else?