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Even McKinsey, Bain, BCG Are Offering MBAs Social Impact Consulting Careers

Consultancies are selling millennials jobs that pack social impact

Thu Feb 25 2016

Katya Akulinicheva has worked at Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and Lazard. But the female former investment banker has given up cushy City jobs for the chance to make a positive impact on society.

Now the Oxford University graduate is a senior consultant at Dalberg Global Development Advisors, a consultancy firm specializing in international development.

A passion for social impact is why she decided to begin an MBA at INSEAD, the world’s top-ranked business school spread across France, Singapore and Abu Dhabi. “My ultimate objective was to learn what social impact was — what are the different [career] paths?” she asks at LAUNCH, a conference on the subject at Saïd Business School.

Katya’s career highlights the shifting attitudes of the millennial generation, who are more concerned with fulfilment and purpose than earning a fat paycheck. For MBAs, greed is no longer good, agrees Wally Hopp, senior associate dean at Michigan’s Ross School of Business. “What they’re looking for is purpose, but in a different way. They’re looking for jobs that matter,” he says.

Dalberg is one example of a growing number of boutique consultancies offering careers that pack impact, yet even the elite trio of strategy firms, McKinsey & Company, Bain, and BCG, are offering MBA jobs in areas like sustainability, healthcare, and the environment, according to Vimi Emraz, who handles consulting and social impact at INSEAD’s Career Development Center.

“Lots of big firms have social impact practices,” she says with a smile, although she concedes a small percentage of INSEAD grads go into them. Most MBAs move into general management consulting. But even there opportunities to impact society abound, believes Ben Mangan, executive director for the Center for Social Sector Leadership at California’s Haas School of Business.

“Bigger firms like Deloitte and others give full credit to young consultants who work on pro bono projects,” he says.

Simon Abrams, senior manager for climate change and sustainability at consultants Ernst & Young, says if you’ve done an MBA with an impact-focused module, “that’s a benefit”.

Speaking to BusinessBecause, the dapper Henley Business School graduate, who has a master’s from Imperial College London to boot, says: “There are really good jobs which need really good people…. The opportunities are there because the issues are so broad.”

With the UN’s Millennium Development Goals agreed last year, and the COP21 climate talks in Paris, there has never been a better time for businesses to take a look at sustainability — one reason for the growth in impact consulting opportunities. Nine in 10 companies engage in “social impact activity”, according to a survey of Fortune 500 firms by Deloitte, which launched a new social impact practice in September.

“Organizations of all kinds — businesses, multilateral organizations and foundations — operate in an extremely global way. This presents a major opportunity,” says Jerry O’Dwyer, principal for Deloitte Consulting LLP, and leader of the new practice.

Deloitte and its competitors — the likes of PwC and KPMG — hire hundreds of MBAs from the elite business schools: at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, McKinsey doubled MBA recruitment last year, says Sheryle Dirks, associate dean for the Career Management Center.

But for those sizing up the landscape for social impact consulting, the paths to jobs are murky. “There isn’t really a path but that comes with the territory of being an innovator,” says Milan Samani, founder of The Intrapreneur Lab, an accelerator that helps corporations foster innovation, which is housed at four b-schools — INSEAD, Oxford, Cornell and the Gordon Institute.

One option is to go freelance. Chintal Barot, an independent sustainability advisor who previously worked for Accenture and PwC, and who studied at ULC, says: “It can be daunting, but if you really want it, there is a way.”

She adds that you can enter a “normal” consultant's role and eventually move into a specialist team, for example the sustainability and climate change group at PwC. INSEAD’s Vimi concurs: “You might have to work in a generalist's role first.”

However, everyone agrees private sector jobs with a focus on social impact are growing.

“There are opportunities for MBAs and they will continue to grow. We are at the very beginning of the trend,” says Ahmad Ashkar, founder of the Hult Prize, the world’s largest social entrepreneurship competition, and MBA graduate.