In the mid-1970s, when Muhammad Yunus went around poor villages in his country, Bangladesh, it struck him that many people required only very small sums of about $27 to start small businesses and break free from the shackles of greedy moneylenders. He launched “Grameen Bank” for providing microcredit to them. The result was the growth of a community of entrepreneurs who not only escaped poverty but also provided employment. Yunus’ initiative became an international movement and he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.
Needy societies have benefited from many visionary social entrepreneurs like Yunus. As part of their mission, they bring their knowledge and business acumen to proven business models in order to find answers to social and environmental issues. Sanjit “Bunker” Roy of Barefoot College, an organization that helps poor women become engineers, doctors, and architects, Ela Bhatt of Self-Employed Women’s Association, Abraham George of the George Foundation, and Nand Kumar Chaudhary of Jaipur Rugs are among well-known modern social entrepreneurs in India whose work has touched millions. Bill Drayton of Ashoka, Wendy Kopp of Teach America, Blake Mycoskie of TOMS, Akhtar Hameed Khan, Scott Harrison of “Charity: Water,” and Sal Khan of Khan Academy are some other well-known names.
Top business schools, as part of their MBA programs, have been teaching social entrepreneurship as a course subject for years. The Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) and Yale University’s School of Management were first off the block. While Stanford GSB launched its now-popular Public Management Program in 1971, Yale SOM started to produce not just business leaders but also leaders for the community since its founding in 1976.
Today, hundreds join MBA courses that have included social entrepreneurship as part of their curricula. At their b-schools, the students hope to learn to transform the world for the less privileged. They graduate to become catalysts of social revolutions with simple innovations.
What does it take to become a social entrepreneur? What do these schools teach? Greg Dees of Duke University’s Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship, explains that the personal characteristics that personal qualities that are required cannot be taught. But teachers can inspire their students to find the courage to take up social missions by presenting them with successful examples.
Obviously, at many schools and in many societies, both teachers and students are managing to achieve what they set out to do. The Acumen Fund, Alzheimer’s Association, Center for Applied Philanthropy, Children’s Cancer Research Fund, and World Vision all have MBAs at the helm. “We are the World,” the 1985 anthem that launched a thousand social missions for Africa, could well be their theme song for the entire world.
What are the best destinations for the most talented and ambitious students of social entrepreneurship? Here’s a look at the top business schools that can teach them the skills, give them the opportunities, and often, even help them find funds and funders.
Yale SOM, with the motto “Harnessing business skills to achieve social objectives,” has consistently topped the US News lists for the best schools for non-profit management right from the time the list first appeared. The activities of SOM’s Program on Social Enterprise includes, in addition to the regular academic courses, research programs, conferences, and publications.
Haas is sometimes ranked higher than even Stanford for its social entrepreneurship courses. Haas’ Center for Social Sector Leadership and “S3” (Social Sector Solutions) provide forums that bring together students and leaders of nonprofits and sharpens their skills for businesses related to the social sector.
As part of its Public Management and Social Innovation Program, GSB allows students to adopt an approach to social impact that they themselves prefer—socially responsible business, social entrepreneurship, nonprofit leadership, or social impact funding (or public policy). They can choose their electives from courses such as health, education, environmental sustainability, and economic opportunity. Students must complete an academic project based on their experiences of social innovation for a community facing a social problem.
Kellogg has a Social Impact curriculum that students can leverage to become global leaders in the cause of social change. The Social Impact courses equip students to embark on careers in various sectors including nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and social enterprises. Engagement opportunities include student labs for social projects and international case competitions.
As part of the Social Enterprise Initiative at HBS, students from various career backgrounds dovetail their social enterprise skills with their academic efforts. They can take advantage of the many types of activities on offer to carve a niche for themselves in the social sector. More than 90 members of HBS faculty are involved in HBS’ social impact initiatives.
The other major international schools for students who want to take up social change studies as part of their MBA program include Oxford’s Saïd Business School (its Skoll Center offers competitive fully funded MBA scholarships), Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business (its CASE scholarship offers 25 percent tuition support), University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School (the school provides MBA loan assistance), Columbia University’s School of Business (loan assistance is available through the Tamer Centre), and New York University’s Stern School of Business (a fifth of full-time MBA students receive merit-based scholarships).
Business schools elsewhere have also evolved world-class MBA courses with emphasis on social enterprise. A few examples: The Instituto de Empresa Business School at Madrid, Spain; the Asia Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy of the University of Singapore; HEC Paris; and HKUST Business School in Hong Kong stress on social impact, believing that young business graduates and entrepreneurs are particularly concerned about ensuring conscientious business practices in the organizations they work with. So do the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business in Vancouver, Canada; the University of Exeter Business School, Exeter, UK; Erasmus University’s Rotterdam School of Management, Netherlands; and the Audencia Nantes School of Management, France.
In India, just over a handful of institutions have evolved courses in social entrepreneurship. The Tata Institute of Social Sciences offers an MA degree in social entrepreneurship and the Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies, Mumbai, has introduced a part-time MBA program on the same topic. The Deshpande Centre for Social Entrepreneurship in Hubli, Karnataka, offers a master’s degree in the discipline. A few other organizations, including NGOs, are organizing short courses in social impact.
Prof. V. Kasturi Rangan of the Harvard Business School, speaking at a seminar organized by the NGO “Hand in Hand” in Chennai, said business schools in India didn’t give adequate importance to social entrepreneurship, and only very few b-schools had a focus on the subject. He said that this was despite the fact that India required professionals trained in social enterprise to guide government and corporate approaches to poverty removal. On their part, companies should ask themselves whether they were better off settling for smaller profits in order to create a bigger social impact, Prof. Rangan said.