Social Entrepreneurship and the M.B.A.

This post originally appeared on the U.S. News — Strictly Business blog.

The notion of using a management degree to do good while doing well has grown in popularity on today’s business school campuses, where an ever-increasing number of students plan on putting their business savvy to use within the nonprofit sector. The recession has led many applicants to reevaluate their priorities and determine what they want to do with their lives, often trading high-status, well-remunerated jobs for careers with a positive social impact.

In order to keep and develop the competitive edge needed to survive in today’s uncertain economy, nonprofits must run themselves just like any other successful business. When you need to run a tight ship, as is often the case within this sector, business skills are essential. So are people skills, management skills, financial-analysis skills, IT skills””the list goes on. That’s where the M.B.A. degree comes in.

[See U.S. News’s rankings of top business schools for nonprofit M.B.A.s.]

While at business school, social enterprise-minded students can take advantage of numerous clubs, competitions, global experiences, and centers designed to teach students about topics ranging from nonprofit management to starting businesses that serve underrepresented communities. The Social Enterprise Initiative is a big part of the M.B.A. experience at Harvard Business School, which boasts more than 500 books and cases published on the subject since 1993 and more than 90 HBS faculty engaged in social enterprise research and teaching. Through the Center for Social Innovation at Stanford Graduate School of Business, M.B.A. students can earn a certificate in the Public Management Program as they focus their academic efforts in areas such as the environment, international development, health care, and education.

The Social Enterprise at Kellogg (SEEK) program, created at Northwestern in 2005 for students interested in the intersection between management and society across all organizations and industries, has developed a curriculum that gives students management skills for a variety of for-profit corporation positions, as well as non-profit and government positions. As an additional incentive, the Kellogg School of Management‘s Loan Assistance Program (LAP) enables Kellogg graduates to enter careers in the public and nonprofit sectors by reducing the educational debt burden that sometimes limits graduates from pursuing positions within these sectors.

Across the pond, the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford’s Saïd Business School stands out for its variety of social entrepreneurship electives, M.B.A. projects on social innovation, and co-curricular activities. It was founded in 2003 with a £4.4 million investment by the Skoll Foundation, the largest funding ever received by a business school for an international program in social entrepreneurship. Each year, the center offers up to five fully funded M.B.A. scholarships to highly impressive candidates, named Skoll Skollars, who plan to pursue entrepreneurial solutions for urgent social and environmental challenges.

Despite the strong showing from these and other highly regarded centers at Yale School of Management, Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, and UC”” Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, some feel more could be done to broaden coursework with social and environmental themes. To that end, Net Impact, the global group that promotes socially and environmentally sustainable business practices, has come up with the Curriculum Change Initiative, designed to empower students to improve their M.B.A. program by incorporating socially and environmentally focused classes, discussions, and events into the curriculum. Net Impact cites recent survey findings that show 78 percent of M.B.A. students feel their curriculum should incorporate more social and environmental themes.

These same students believe that corporate responsibility leads to profits, and a third of today’s M.B.A.s say contributing to society is one of their top three career priorities. By using Net Impact’s 10 Steps for Curriculum Change Success, students can become a powerful force for improving their own M.B.A. programs.

For a deep dive into this subject, I highly recommend John Byrne’s piece on Social Entrepreneurism: The Best Schools and Programs. His exhaustive analysis of what each of the U.S. News‘s top-ranked schools has to offer tomorrow’s social entrepreneurs should be required reading for anyone contemplating business school from the nonprofit perspective.

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