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Social Impact Gains Ground At Business Schools

MBA students want to make an impact on society. Business schools are catering for social impact and social entrepreneurs, and many students seek internships with social enterprises.

Thu Jul 17 2014

Brad Krauskopf turned to a career where he felt he could have the biggest impact. His social venture, Hub Australia, was founded through IE Business School’s Net Impact Club.

His business, a collaborative empire of incubators and community centres, has grown to more than 1,000 members across three Australian cities. They are all branches of Impact Hub, a wider organization with global locations which tries to help people create “impact”.

“I met the founder of Hub Madrid through the IE club. I was inspired by how someone with very little resources made a huge impact,” said Brad, who specialized in sustainability and social innovation during his MBA.

He thinks that businesses which cater for social impact have a competitive advantage. “The individuals and organizations that can figure out how to harness the value of it will find themselves with a significant advantage over companies that don’t,” added Brad, who launched his first social venture in 2010.

His career path is unlikely, but business school students are now more interested in careers that have a social impact. Public and private sector organizations have responded by offering internship and job opportunities for MBA students.

The World Bank’s private sector investment arm saw postgraduate job applications more than double to 2,600 this year from 1,200 in 2013.

Dirk Holshausen, who works at CDC Group, the leading private equity firm that invests in businesses in some of the world's poorest places, said many of his colleagues have MBA degrees from top business schools, in roles from equity investing to posts on the fund of funds team.

“The company has recently returned to direct investing, while maintaining its fund of funds capability, and the teams are growing,” said Dirk.

Careers at CDC offer students the chance to invest with impact – in countries where private sectors are weak, and where growth leads to jobs for its citizens. The company’s portfolio of investments is valued at about £2.25 billion.

Mark Kochanski, from Rotman School of Management's Net Impact Club, said the group strives to affect positive social and environmental changes by empowering MBA students to use their skills to improve the world.

Members are encouraged to explore potential impact-career opportunities in diverse areas such as social entrepreneurship, sustainability consulting and renewable energy.

“I have developed a firm belief that companies can operate in a socially and environmentally conscious manner, and still realize sustainable long term profitability and growth,” said Mark. He plans to work in management consulting with a focus on sustainability.

The London Business School chapter of Net Impact, the non-profit organisation that supports social and environmental causes, has nearly 2,000 members, a 77% rise from 2010.

Pamela Hartigan is the director behind the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford's Saïd Business School. It was founded in 2003 with a reported £4 million investment by the Skoll Foundation’s Jeff Skoll, the founding president of Ebay – the largest such fund of its kind at the time.

MBAs have been lured into social impact and social entrepreneurship by the prospect of innovation, real change and challenging the status quo.

“Unlike older generations, they don’t want to wait until they’re 50 to give back,” said Pamela. “They want to start now. They want to do away with that traditional fragmentation that has separated where we make money and where we do good.”

Each year, the centre provides a crop of MBA scholarships to highly impressive candidates – Skoll Skollars – who plan to pursue entrepreneurial solutions for urgent social and environmental challenges.

One such Skollar is Chris Raine, an MBA student who received a scholarship, based on his social venture Hello Sunday Morning. The business helps people who desire to change their pattern of drinking or alcohol abuse. Users sign up to Chris’ website for a free online platform, and pledge to go sober for three months, and can blog about their experiences.

“The core of it is a sense of community; people that want to make a change in their lives get support from each other to achieve that,” he said. Chris graduates this summer and plans to return to Australia, where the organization is based, to work on it full-time.

His site has about 25,000 users. But he wants to double that every year for five years – “considering there are two-billion drinkers in the word, 200 million of which have some issue with alcohol in their lives”. Hs venture is funded by government health organizations.

Other business schools have reported increases in students wanting social impact summer internships. Yet they are often on a voluntary basis, making them less attractive to MBA students, many of whom are paying off tuition.

To combat this problem, schools have launched funds to support MBAs who pursue internships with impact.

NYU Stern created the Social Impact Internship Fund, a financial stipend of up to $10,000, which supports first-year full-time MBA students who wish to complete a summer internship working at the intersection of business and society. Several other schools have followed suit.

Recipients have worked with non-profit organizations, for-profit social enterprises, and started their own social ventures.

Many impact internships see students enter the public sector. Amanda Tincknell, the chief executive of the Cranfield Trust, said the public sector is under pressure to do more with less income.

The CT has over 700 volunteer consultants and hires talent from some of the best business schools in the world, who work with more than 250 charities. Cranfield School of Management, the UK-based school, offers a crop of MBA scholarships for CT members each year.

“There is an awful lot of demand out there for more support. Looking ahead at next five years, we need more help,” said Amanda.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for people who want board-level opportunities, and a great opportunity to develop skills as a manager.”