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Bain, BCG, And McKinsey Are Snapping Up MBAs For Social Impact Consulting — Here's Why

The consulting industry has spotted an opportunity in “impact advising” — and MBA jobs abound

Mon May 16 2016

Fadzi Whande wasn’t in search of riches when she began an executive MBA in Australia. “I have always wanted to start my own consulting firm and set up a foundation to educate and empower women,” she beams.

With a passion for social justice and heroes such as Martin Luther King Jr, Fadzi did just that. She’s the founder of premier diversity consultancy Whande Group and has interests in a plethora of social impact initiatives, from non-profits to a consulting firm that fights institutional racism in schools.

“The networks I have formed have opened up so many opportunities for me,” she says of her three years at Perth’s UWA Business School. “The experience has been life changing in so many ways.”

More than half of MBA students plan to put positive impact ahead of financial gain, according to research from Bain & Company. The firm, along with McKinsey & Company and Boston Consulting Group, are offering MBA jobs in sustainability, healthcare and environmental consulting, says Vimi Emraz, consulting careers lead at the prestigious business school INSEAD.

“Lots of big firms have social impact practices,” she smiles.

The consulting industry has spotted an opportunity in “impact advising”. Nine in 10 companies are engaged in social impact activity, according to a survey of Fortune 500 firms by Deloitte. Such is demand that the professional services firm set up a dedicated social impact practice in September last year.

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

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, according to Simon Abrams, senior manager for climate change and sustainability consulting at Ernst & Young.

“The commitments made by governments and the implications for businesses will shape consulting trends for years to come,” says the Henley Business School graduate. The growing scope of issues mean there is a thirst for talent, Simon says. “There are really good jobs, which need really good people.”

Consulting firms are the lead employers at most business schools, and have been for decades. McKinsey doubled the number of MBAs it hired last year at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, for instance, says Sheryle Dirks, associate dean for careers. Many of those jobs will be in strategy consulting, but opportunities do exist in areas related to social impact, suggests Peter Lacy, managing director of Accenture Strategy.

“We need people at Accenture who can bring a different perspective,” he says, adding: “We are the biggest employer of MBAs in the world.”

Peter hints at the circular economy, which Accenture reckons could be a $4.5 trillion market globally by 2030. “The circular economy is one of the most disruptive forces we will see. It will define business in the next generation,” he says.

While consulting firms are increasingly expanding their “impact” practices, some may find it difficult to hire and hold MBAs. They are of the millennial generation; more concerned with fulfilment, purpose and entrepreneurialism than earning six-figure sums.

“What they’re looking for is purpose, but in a different way. They’re looking for jobs that matter,” says Wally Hopp, senior associate dean at Michigan’s Ross School of Business.

Daniela Papi-Thornton, deputy director of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, says companies should not side-line these initiatives. Instead, they should “redesign businesses from the inside so that social and environmental responsibility are embedded in the organization”.

Examples of this shift are already evident across sectors, from finance and banking to fast-moving consumer goods.

“Big firms like Deloitte and others give full credit to young consultants who work on pro bono projects,” for example, says Ben Mangan, executive director of the Center for Social Sector Leadership at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.

Katya Akulinicheva has worked at investment banks Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and Lazard, but the chance to explore impact was why she decided to begin an MBA at INSEAD. “My ultimate objective was to learn what social impact was — what are the different paths?” she says.

Now she’s a senior consultant at Dalberg Global Development Advisors, a consultancy firm specializing in international development. Katya says it’s easier to land a job if you have a background in consulting, “but we hire from all different fields”.

Passion, an analytical mind set and flexibility are important. Above all, “demonstrate that you don’t want a cushy corporate job”.