How Northwestern Kellogg Became A Social Impact Hub

Kellogg’s Sam Schiller, left, with farmer Matthew Sheffer of Stone House Grain. Courtesy photo


Soon after he began to teach at Kellogg, David Chen came up with the idea for the Kellogg-Morgan Stanley Sustainable Investing Challenge — a competition that invites teams of graduate students from around the world to develop and pitch creative financial approaches to tackle pressing social and environmental challenges. In 2021, more than 400 students from over 50 countries and 80 schools proposed novel financial instruments to create a positive impact.

Schiller and his team participated in this challenge; together, they researched all aspects of the Carbon Yield idea. They spoke with experts in the field, built a financial model, and developed an investment pitch, which advanced to the Kellogg-Morgan Stanley Sustainable Investing Challenge finals in Hong Kong in 2019. They won the competition, along with $10,000 prize money. “This competition gave us a significant network expansion of impact investors in the venture capital space,” Shiller says. “It’s a tremendous learning opportunity to be able to hone in on your ideas and pitch to investors and get feedback.”

Chen says that this challenge has created opportunities around the world for students to apply financial tools and knowledge of investment and capital markets to current problems. “The Kellogg-Morgan Stanley Sustainable Investing Challenge is a massive experiential exercise,” Chen explains. “It forces students to face the reality of these hard environmental and social problems and look at how the interplay of economic, biological, human, behavioral, and societal systems shape them. In many cases, it’s motivated many to want to work in this field.”


Like the Kellogg-Morgan Stanley Sustainable Investing Challenge, Kellogg offers a range of experiential social impact resources for students interested in launching a social impact venture, like Schiller.

Schiller credits the Zell Fellows Program in helping him start Carbon Yield. Introduced in 2013, this program is designed to be an applied entrepreneurial experience for a select number of MBA candidates interested in starting a new venture or acquiring an existing one. “This program allowed me to think about building my own business model and test the right kind of assumptions to scale,” he explains.

In addition to the Zell Program, Kellogg offers the Board Fellows Program, recently gifted $3.5M from Golub Capital. The gift will support Board Fellows programming over the next five years; the school’s adding two new awards for Fellows and their nonprofits, paving the way for replication of the program at other leading business schools, and hiring two postdoctoral fellows, who will support Board Fellows work and assist a broader group of Kellogg faculty with social impact-related research as part of a new Golub Capital Social Impact Lab.

This program’s purpose is to equip students with the skills and experience necessary to be effective nonprofit board members. Operating since 2003, this rigorous, 20-month program annually places 100 Kellogg students on nonprofit boards as ex officio board members. In addition to their board service, students complete a strategic consulting project for their organization and take two academic courses in board governance.

“Not everybody wants to go work for a nonprofit or work for a school or work for the government,” says Allison Henry, Adjunct Professor of Social Impact. “But you can still work in business and engage in your community in meaningful ways. My hope with this program is that I can help students build their confidence, skill set, and help people see that even when they don’t have the answers, they can ask the right questions to get to those answers.”


Aside from fellowship opportunities, there is more support for social impact students in the form of clubs, events, and consortiums.

For example, there are over 10 clubs related to social impact at Kellogg, such as the Impact Consulting Club, which matches teams of Kellogg students with Chicago nonprofits and socially responsible entrepreneurs who are in need of assistance with business problems and concerns, as well as the Energy and Sustainability Club, which allows students interested in the energy industry to network, learn from industry professionals, and develop a successful career.


There are also events like Social Impact Days, which is a two-day immersion hosted prior to the formal start of classes and open to all incoming students. At Social Impact Days, students form teams to rapidly design an innovative approach to a real social or environmental challenge and pitch their ideas in a mini-competition. They also get a crash course from faculty and alumni on the spectrum of social impact and Kellogg’s approach. “This is a great opportunity for new students at Kellogg to get exposed to the school’s resources,” says Schiller.

Another indicator of Kellogg’s commitment to social impact is the Impact & Sustainable Finance Faculty Consortium, which the school has hosted since 2017. This consortium fosters collaboration between professors from around the world, providing them with tools to improve their impact investing and sustainable finance classes. Today, the consortium includes over 250 members from over 28 countries.

But perhaps the most important social impact resource for students is the school’s faculty, according to Schiller. “Kellogg has a tremendous network. And I didn’t underestimate the importance in developing close relationships with faculty. Some of the faculty members have been exposed to thousands of social impact companies and know what investors are looking for. They have amazing connections, and can help you take the right kind of risks, provide camaraderie, and give you a ton of support,” he says.

While Schiller believes that Kellogg’s faculty is the most impactful resource at the school, Klaus Weber, Thomas G. Ayers Chair in Energy Resource Management and Professor of Management & Organizations, believes that the community of students is vital to making social impact an essential part of the MBA education. “I think it’s actually the culture of the school at large rather than a particular sort of social impact offering that really supports students here,” adds Weber.

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