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Harvard’s New Social Enterprise Director

Matt Segneri graduated from HBS in 2010

Matt Segneri graduated from HBS in 2010

The more cynical, MBA bashers would scratch their heads at one of the latest announcements by the Harvard Business School: the appointment of a new director of the school’s Social Enterprise Initiative (SEI).

Social enterprise at HBS? The business school that over the years has sent more MBAs into high finance and high-margin management consulting than any other?

Matt Segneri, newly named to the job of heading the umbrella body that applies business practices to effect social change, apparently doesn’t think so. “This really is a dream job,” he says. After all, in any given year, HBS sends 10 times as many MBAs into finance and consulting as it does into the non-profit sector, which last year attracted 5% of the graduating class.

CAREER SWITCHERS MOVING INTO PUBLIC & SOCIAL SECTORS LATER IN LIFE

For Segneri, the MBA was his transition ticket to working in the non-profit arena. Most recently, he was as a senior leader on the Government Innovation team at Bloomberg Philanthropies in New York City. After graduating from HBS in 2010, Segneri spent two years as an adviser to the mayor of Boston. Before coming to business school, he worked as a consultant for the Monitor Group. Now, he’ll bring all that expertise to bear on the SEI.

While Segneri’s path to a career in social enterprise was a straightforward trajectory, he says that’s not the case for every student. “It’s not a one-shot deal. For some folks it makes sense after graduation, but career switchers are also moving into the public and social sectors later in life,” he adds. The SEI encourages all of them to find their social enterprise niche, whether that’s working in the government or pursuing a career in finance while volunteering on the side. “I think it’s about helping people to channel their passions and interests into the work they’re most excited about,” he says. “There’s a lot of good work to be done there.”

Segneri says the initiative is really about “inspiring, educating, and supporting current and emerging leaders in making a difference in the world.” In his view, social enterprise should encompass all organizational entities, from for-profit businesses to NGOs. “In short form, it’s really about creating social value independent of the sector,” he says.

A PRIORITY: PUSHING FOR STRONGER TIES WITH ALUMNI IN SOCIAL ENTERPRISE

Still in his first month on the job, Segneri is working on his road map for the SEI. For starters, he’ll push for stronger ties with alumni in social enterprise. He points out that one-third of HBS graduates sit on a nonprofit board. He’s hopeful these alums will provide compelling success stories for current MBAs. “You look to role models for what your career path could look like … part of it is providing those examples of alumni,” he says.

He’s also keen to expand Harvard’s full-time and internship opportunities. Currently, the B-school offers a Leadership Fellows program, which pairs recent Harvard graduates with nonprofit and public-sector organizations for one year in high-impact positions. The B-school subsidizes fellows’ salaries to the tune of $50,000 each – the partner organizations pony up another $45,000 to give graduates a salary of $95,000.

The business school also offers the Social Enterprise Summer Fellowship, which students can pursue in lieu of the standard summer internship. The school awards an average of $6,000 to summer fellows, though it varies based on the length of the internship, on top of what the organization provides.

HAD WORKED ON PROMOTION STRATEGIES FOR FBI SPECIAL AGENTS

Segneri participated in both the Leadership Fellows program (at the Boston mayor’s office) and the summer fellowship, where he devised promotion strategies for the FBI’s special agents. Segneri says these experiences cultivated his own interest in social enterprise, and he’s eager to create similar opportunities for business students.

Segneri notes that interest in entrepreneurship among MBAs has grown, even since he graduated four years ago. The school’s Social Enterprise Club is one of the largest and most active on campus. And even students who follow more traditional paths, such as consulting or finance, are increasingly seeking out projects and companies that promote social value. Employers recruiting on campus are even incorporating social enterprise initiatives into their pitches to attract students, he says.

DON’T MISS: SOCIAL ENTERPRISE GAINING GROUND AMONG MBAS or WINNING HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL’S TOP PRIZE IN SOCIAL ENTERPRISE