More Stanford MBAs Embrace Social Impact, Innovation

Stanford photo

It’s not exactly a head-scratcher, but the data make it official: The number of Stanford Graduate School of Business students who are focusing on social impact and innovation courses as part of their educational experience hasn’t just grown, it has exploded. The school announced today (May 29) that this year more than 90% of the 488 Stanford GSB MBA and specialty business master’s students took a course related to social innovation or social impact, including 95% of the MBA Class of 2019 and 81% of the MSx Class of 2019.

MBA student interest in pursuing social entrepreneurship is also on the rise at Stanford, with a 6% increase over the past three years, according to figures released by the school. In 2017, 2018, and 2019, social entrepreneurship interest rose from 12% to 13% and 18%, respectively.

“What we are seeing is a generation of students who expect meaning and purpose from their work, are questioning the system, and don’t shy away from big problems” says Bernadette Clavier, executive director of Stanford’s Center for Social Innovation, which is marking its 20th year in 2019. “I look forward to witnessing the impact the Class of 2019 will have on some of the world’s thorniest issues.”


Stanford GSB Dean Jon Levin

The average number of MBA and MSx students earning Stanford’s Certificate in Public Management and Social Innovation from 1990-1999 was 35. Then, liftoff: from 2010-2019 it exploded to 114, a 225% increase. In this year’s graduating glass, out of approximately 488 students, 118 — nearly one-quarter — are on track to receive the certificate. In 1971, the first year the certificate was offered, only two students received the credential.

Of course, much has changed since 1971. Back then, Stanford’s Public Management Program, as it was called, was required to reserve 40 spaces for applicants who wanted to go into public service. Then, in 1987, the school saw an upswing in student interest, and by the mid-1990s students were defining social impact more broadly, including social entrepreneurship, nonprofit management, and public policy, along with domain specializations like education, environment, or health care — and flocking to Stanford in waves. The GSB’s Center for Social Innovation was founded in 1999 to respond to the heightened interest and guide students interested in pursuing career paths and ventures with a social impact.

“I see two trends in the activities at CSI, and more generally at the GSB,” says Jonathan Levin, GSB’s dean. “The first, and one that deserves great celebration, is the remarkable number of our students and young alums who are dedicated to social impact, and to seeking purpose and mission along with professional success.

“The second theme I want to celebrate is students’ collective dedication to addressing big issues. Their willingness to ask challenging questions about the world, and even about the GSB, is fundamental to bringing about change in organizations. And I think this willingness — in a leading business school! — is also to be celebrated.”


Lots of schools nurture or otherwise encourage interest in social impact pursuits post-MBA. Part of what makes Stanford GSB such a hotbed for social innovation is the rewards — and awards — students can receive by pursuing it. In announcing the new data on student interest in social impact pursuits, Stanford also announced the two winners of this year’s $110,000 Social Innovation Fellowship. Both Karin Underwood and Christina Guilbeau graduated this spring, and both will receive the financial stipend to be disbursed throughout the next year as they work with Stanford’s CSI to build their nonprofits.

The similarities don’t end there. Both are pursuing technology ventures related to individual health and mental wellness services for underserved communities. Underwood is building CoachMe, a peer health coaching service that provides behavior change support for low-income mothers with Medicaid who are suffering from chronic heart disease; while Guilbeau is launching Counselor Connect, which aims to extend the reach of mental health therapists to low-income adolescents who currently lack access.

GSB’s Social Innovation Fellowships are awarded by two separate five-member independent judge panels, which include experienced social entrepreneurs, social impact funders, and experts in the field. Another award, the Miller Social Change Leadership Award, honors graduating MBA and MSx students who have made an outstanding contribution to the GSB social innovation community; all those who earn a Certificate in Public Management and Social Innovation are eligible. The 10 students who received the 2019 Miller Social Change Leadership Award are Abiodun Buari, Judy Dunbar, Kathryn Geskermann, Christina Guilbeau, Matias Lanus, Julia Osterman, Jackie Rotman, Valerie Shen, Karin Underwood, and Kate Wharton.

In February, the CSI also awarded the Frances and Arjay Miller Prize in Social Innovation to Kate Wharton and David Osayande. The prize supports one or more students graduating with a Certificate in Public Management and Social Innovation who are choosing social impact career paths, and aims to alleviate some of the financial hardship that can be associated with taking on a career tackling social and environmental challenges. Prize winners each receive $20,000, awarded for their commitment to building a more just, sustainable, and prosperous world in the next chapter of their careers.


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.