MBA Application: 6 Of The Best US Business Schools For Social Impact

Changing career motivations mean more US business schools are championing social impact

The past decade has seen notions of ‘sustainability, ‘responsibility,’ and ‘social impact’ become part of mainstream parlance.

Divorced of context, these buzzwords suggest a utopian awareness of our individual roles in an increasingly globalized society. Case in point? Look no further than McDonald’s Healthy Menu, which the fast food behemoth recently told CNN is part of its “food journey,” a phrase that evokes Nag Champa and dog-eared copies of Eat Pray Love.

While organic/clean/green culture might insinuate progress, it’s hard not to grow cynical upon closer inspection; there are so many instances of greenwashing and corporate doublespeak that it’s unclear what terms like ‘responsibility’ mean anymore. 

Still, when it comes to large companies that adopt ethical stances—even those with less-than-stellar track records—it would be remiss for people and organizations with a desire to make change not to at least consider ways to collaborate with the entities that have the most resources, political leverage, and technical expertise.

Business schools are a ground zero for this kind of collaboration. A 2013 NY Times piece reported that, “students interested in social business remain a minority of MBA applicants.” Just four years later and it seems like we’re in the midst of a palpable 180 at business school campuses across the country.

With this in mind, here’s six of the best US business schools for social impact:

1. MIT Sloan School of Management

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MIT Sloan’s Sustainability Initiative and Social Impact Fellowship are both representative of a campus-wide culture that seeks to meaningfully connect students and graduates to a world beyond the classroom.

Jason Jay, director of MIT Sloan’s Sustainability Initiative said: “Every student who comes to MIT Sloan gets some exposure to thinking about the big social and environmental issues, 80% of them take at least one elective in sustainability, and more than 1/3 of MIT Sloan students take three or more electives in sustainability.”

2. UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business

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Since 2006, 435 Berkeley graduates have been placed on nonprofit boards of directors through the Berkeley Board Fellows program. The school’s Global Social Venture Competition has awarded $50,000 in prizes each year to pioneering ideas for social enterprises.

Of the school’s commitment to addressing social and environmental challenges, Robert Strand, executive director of Haas’ Center for Responsible Business said: We live and breathe social impact at Berkeley. Berkeley-Haas is a pioneer innovating social impact solutions, from our longstanding Global Social Venture Competition (GSVC) to our expansive curricular opportunities, which include our Social Lean Launchpad course and our hosting of the annual Patagonia Case Competition.”

3. Stanford GSB

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Director for the Stanford’s Center for Social Innovation (CSI) Bernadette Clavier, writes: “As millennials take business schools by storm, it is important for us to prepare future business leaders to take an active role in society and to design socially innovative solutions that change the world.”

Recent examples of CSI projects include establishing charter schools with innovative teaching methods, an initiative using economic incentives to reduce pollution, and a fair trade certification to promote environmental sustainability among farmers.

4. Chicago Booth

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Chicago Booth is home to a social impact hub, the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation, which equips graduates “with the knowledge and tools to positively impact humanity.”

There’s also the Chicago Booth Global Social Impact Practicum (GSIP), a course supported by Indian nonprofit Tata Trusts in which business students consult on real projects in emerging markets related to development, infrastructure, and social enterprise.

5. Temple University’s Fox School of Business

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In addition to Fox’s Board Fellows Program, Fox professors are individually committed to integrating social justice into their curricula.

Jean Wilcox, who runs a course in Entrepreneurial Marketing, introduced the 10-10-10 Foundation, challenging students in teams of 10 to take $10 of seed money and multiply it by a factor of 10 to contribute to a non-profit or community organization. Since January 2010, her students have generated more than $320,000 and more than 4,500 volunteer hours.

Fox professor Steven Balsam, from the Accounting department, has for the last nine years led thele Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program to help residents of Ambler, Pa., with a household income below $52,000, file their federal and state tax returns free of charge. Balsam and his students helped residents secure more than $437,000 in returns filed in April 2016.

6. Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business

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Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business is the kind of place where, according to Merritt Patridge, Executive Director for the Center for Business, Government & Society, “students live and breathe a sense of community and meaningfully engage with the world.”

Before classes even begin, first-year students partner with dozens of organizations to generate new opportunities for creating and funding social impact. Tuck has quite literally made social responsibility part of the curriculum since day one, as Merritt explains:

“The broader meaning of business and its impact on society was inherent in Tuck’s founding more than a century ago, has been nurtured throughout its history, and lives through Tuck’s mission to educate wise leaders that better the world of business.”

There are opportunities outside the classroom for Tuck students to study abroad, serve on the boards of nonprofits, invest for impact as a part of the Tuck Social Venture Fund, or study economic development in rural communities.

Merritt hopes that Tuck graduates leave “positioned to become wise leaders, mindful of fundamental issues affecting today’s global economy and ready to contribute to the common good.”

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