UC Berkeley Launches Social Impact Center

Former Haas Dean Laura Tyson will serve as the director of Berkeley's new Institute for Business and Social Impact

Former Haas Dean Laura Tyson will serve as the director of UC Berkeley’s new Institute for Business and Social Impact

UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business today (Nov. 7) launched the Institute for Business and Social Impact, an umbrella organization that encompasses four of the school’s existing programs and a new initiative focused on women in business. The school tapped former Haas Dean Laura Tyson, who also chaired President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers, as the institute’s inaugural director.

While Haas has been dappling in social enterprise since the 1950s, today’s announcement marks the school’s first concerted effort to bring its separate initiatives together under a single body. The institute will include Haas’ centers in nonprofit leadership and responsible business; the B-school’s graduate program in health management; Haas’ Global Social Venture Competition; and a new initiative focused on the role of women in business, which will include a speaker series, new classes, applied research and seminars with leading executives.

Tyson compares the new organization to a holding company: “This is meant to be cooperative, coordinated, to build up the brand of Haas in this area, to add new things, to encourage synergies,” she says. “It’s a holding company to get everyone to work together to do better things, where 1+1=3 instead of 1+1=2.”


The institute emerged from a combination of rising student demand and investor interest. “This is a reflection of what the students are interested in doing when they come to business school. It has been well reported that a large percentage of them come to school with the notion that whatever career they have, whether it’s in the public sector, nonprofit or for-profit, they want to do something that benefits society, that addresses the challenges they see around them,” Tyson says.

She points out that Morgan Stanley, where she sits on the board, announced plans for an Institute for Sustainable Investing only last week. Other financial institutions are homing in on options for clients seeking social returns on their investments: “If you look at the big financial services firms, they’re all being asked to do that, and they’re all doing it,” Tyson says. “That reflects the interest of the investors.”

The institute will also tackle training and research in social entrepreneurship–a field that’s quickly gaining traction at top business schools. Any intensive study on social entrepreneurship raises the fickle question of what it is, exactly. Tyson offers her own take on the term: “What seems to me to be the case is when you put social in front of any of this stuff, what you are saying is that the investor, the risk taker, the innovator, the entrepreneur is actually thinking about their first priority as the social mission … The innovation is the solution that makes you the entrepreneur.” It’s a bold definition and one that Haas is betting on.

To date, the institute has received $1 million in funding from Allan Holt, a Haas MBA alum and managing director at the Carlyle Group. Acumen Fund Chairwoman Emeritus Margo Alexander also chipped in a $100,000 contribution.

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