Donation To Expand Social Enterprise At Columbia

Tamer Center students working on rooftop farms in New York City. Photo courtesy of CBS

Tamer Center students working on rooftop farms in New York City. Photo courtesy of CBS

New York City is more than bagels, baseball and endless nights. Likewise, the NYC microcosm of business is increasingly more than finance and consulting. Accordingly, Columbia Business School (CBS) has announced that it is creating Tamer Center for Social Enterprise, thanks to an undisclosed generous donation from Sandra and Tony Tamer.

According to Bruce M. Usher, CBS professor and co-director of the Tamer Center, the donation will lead to two significant impacts. First, it will strengthen the program by enhancing the Loan Assistance Program (LAP) and by broadening the Summer Fellowship Program.

The LAP is a loan assistance program that helps alumni strapped with student loans that decide to pursue careers in public, nonprofit or social entrepreneurial sectors. The additional funding will allow more alumni to qualify for the program and extend the assistance up to 10 years after graduation. The Summer Fellowship Program traditionally matches MBAs with organizations creating social and environmental value for a summer. Now the program will be extended to students in all departments of Columbia University at the graduate and undergraduate area.

Second, the additional funding will create the Tamer Fund for Social Ventures. The fund will distribute seed grants of up to $25,000 for selected ventures. It will also help establish the Social Entrepreneurs Network, an advisory network of veteran professionals and networks.


The development and expansion of the Tamer Center seems to be a natural next step for a school with finance and consulting roots that is rapidly developing a social enterprise community.

“When people think NYC, they think finance,” Usher says. “There is more finance here than anywhere else in the world. But it is also the philanthropic capital of the world. More money is given to nonprofits here than anywhere else. But that’s not the image many have of the brand of NYC.”

Usher says he has seen a shift in the past five to 10 years of MBA students interested in social enterprise across the board. Indeed, social enterprise continues to grow as a buzzword almost to the point of annoyance. Whether it’s Harvard, Yale, Duke Fuqua, Berkeley Haas, Texas McCombs or the anointed party starters of social enterprise, Michigan Ross, the opportunity to concentrate in social good while pursuing an MBA is not hard to find.

Bruce Usher. Photo courtesy of CBS

Bruce Usher. Photo courtesy of CBS


Nevertheless, Usher says the development of the Tamer Center is more than just preparing students to start their own social venture or work for a nonprofit—it’s about bestowing that knowledge on all MBAs, making the degree more holistic. “Our mission is not graduating everyone in a social enterprise concentration,” Usher says. “It might be to simply incorporate social enterprise into the minds of those pursuing finance or consulting. The bank they end up working for could be involved in microfinance. A huge number of our graduates end up sitting on nonprofit boards or funding a social enterprise.”

If social enterprise is the goal, one wouldn’t be alone at CBS. The school now offers 21 electives in the concentration. According to Usher, last year the school averaged 55 students in those classes and have “600 or 700” members involved in the three CBS clubs dedicated to social enterprise.

For comparison’s sake, Duke Fuqua has about 27 courses dealing with nearly every facet of  social enterprise, Texas McCombs has 15, Harvard has around 10 and Michigan Ross has some 20 electives devoted to social entrepreneurship.


Another emphasis and perhaps strength of the new Tamer Center is students will be encouraged to work across departments within the university. “One of the most exciting opportunities is bringing the diverse interdisciplinary perspectives of Columbia together,” Sandra Tamer said in a release. “Students studying business, engineering, law, medicine, or public policy will now be able to come together to develop new ideas, innovative solutions, and practical models to solve emerging challenges facing society today.”

Usher concurs in saying working with other schools can enhance the ventures and allow business students to draw on sector specific expertise. Often education, policy, health care or engineering students can add domain proficiency that “may or may not exist in the business school.”

Additionally, according to Usher, what different sectors seem to be emphasized are ever changing and fluid. “Every couple of years, different sectors of social enterprise become popular,” Usher says. “Microfinance was popular five to seven years ago. Then renewable energy and climate change became popular. Today it is food and agriculture.”


Having funding set aside to encourage students from different departments will almost assuredly lead to stronger ventures created by Columbia students and alumni. Usher believes having the Center available for alumni is another differentiator.

“There are some students ready to do social enterprise,” says Usher. “They have the knowledge and the networks and this is what they are going to do. They will do it and should do it. There are others that having some work experience probably makes more since. Some might be 20 or 30 years into career before it makes sense for them. It took me 10 years. It is entirely about the individual.”

The Tamers decided on the Social Enterprise Program at CBS by working with Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.