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Social Impact & CSR Careers after MBA gaining in popularity

Social Impact & CSR Careers after MBA

The corporate and business landscape is undergoing a subtle revolution, where ‘social impact’ is becoming a watchword for good business practices. And leading the charge is a highly motivated band of young MBA graduates hungry to find ‘solutions to global problems’.

‘Social impact’ stands at the confluence of two powerful forces – one creating demand and the other offering solutions. On the ‘demand’ side, businesses are becoming increasingly aware of the social and environmental impact of their decisions, in areas such as climate change, women’s rights, gender equality, healthcare, primary education and the like.

Whether by choice or compelled by legislation that requires companies to budget for corporate social responsibility initiatives, the business world is beginning to hire highly qualified managers to head their social impact divisions. Meeting this need are MBA grads, who are choosing careers in social impact consultancy.

Don’t get us wrong. The numbers, though significant, are still small,and a majority of MBA graduates are still in it for that fat paycheck, working in domains such as management consultancy, finance and investing. But there is a slice of bright, young minds with their eye on the greater good. These are the ‘millennials’ (born in the ‘80s and ‘90s, now in their 20s and 30s), who are searching for meaning, purpose and fulfilment in their work. Many of these young, future managers are keen to make a difference to their organisations, communities and the world, and are even giving up cushy and lucrative jobs in favour of social impact careers.

It’s early days yet and, as we just said, it is difficult to quantify this trend but here’s an indication of how committed these millennials are. According to a global study of more than 3,700 students at 29 top business schools by Yale University, 44 per cent of respondents were willing to accept a lower salary to work for a company with better environmental practices.

“There is a lot of evidence that suggests millennials have a different mind-set towards work, satisfaction and work-life balance,” says Radhika Chadwick, a partner lead at EY. “They tend to want autonomy and to work on very exciting projects all the time.”

Chadwick’s opinion is rooted in more than perception or anecdotal evidence. According to a recent survey of millennials by PwC, ‘development’ and ‘work-life balance’ are more important than financial rewards, among a section of MBA grads.

Erin WorshamErin Worsham, Executive Director for the Center of the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE) at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business couldn’t agree more. “Career opportunities for MBAs that want to make a positive impact on society are limitless,” she says. “Non-profit jobs can be an excellent way to have a direct impact and MBAs often get to take on roles that are multi-functional. Opportunities in the for-profit sector are growing as well.”

MBA Crystal Ball asked Erin if there was an increased interest in social impact careers among Duke students. She said, “Each year at CASE we see increasing interest in social impact and rising demand for our programs. Nearly 2000 students have enrolled in our social entrepreneurship and impact investing courses and we’ve had record numbers of applicants for our CASE and CASE i3 (CASE’s Initiative on Impact Investing) fellowship programs this year alone. This is consistent with what we are seeing sector wide – that this generation of business students wants to use their business skills to make a positive difference in the world and are seeking careers that are aligned with their values.”

She added, “From nonprofit to government to for-profit, the career opportunities for MBAs that want to make a positive impact on society are nearly limitless. Nonprofit jobs can be an excellent way to have a direct impact and often get to take on roles that are multi-functional. The for-profit sector is growing as well – not only from more traditional companies looking for CSR or sustainability roles but there has also been an enormous increase in social impact driven for-profit companies such as B Corporations that are growing and looking to hire. We’re also seeing the demand for impact investing careers increasing significantly as this field of impact investing continues to evolve.”

Speaking about the resources offered by Duke, Erin told MBA Crystal Ball “At Fuqua we prepare students with the skills, experiences, and career support to become the future business leaders driving positive change. Students build skills through courses on social entrepreneurship and impact investing, have the opportunity to work directly with social ventures through our consulting practica, participate in extracurricular programs such as our nonprofit Board fellowship program, and much more. Knowing that salaries are typically not as high in impact careers, we provide financial aid – from summer internship funding for social impact internships to loan repayment for alumni working in the nonprofit or public sectors. Finally, Fuqua has a dedicated career services director that works directly with students to navigate social impact and sustainability career opportunities.”

The time couldn’t be more right for those who want to make a difference. The United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals and numerous international climate change initiatives have given ‘social impact’ global legitimacy, not to mention billions of dollars in funding for non-profits around the world.

But an indication that the tide is truly turning comes from the world’s top consultancy firms, which are beginning to hire MBA grads for careers in social impact consultancy. Deloitte, for instance, launched a new social impact practice in September 2015 and is offering full credit to young consultants who work on pro bono projects. The company also found that nine in 10 companies engage in ‘social impact activity’, in a survey it conducted on Fortune 500 firms.

Deloitte is not the only top global consultancy firm offering young and aspiring MBA gradsjobs in areas like sustainability, healthcare and the environment, says Vimi Emraz, who handles consulting and social impact at INSEAD’s Career Development Center. Others, like McKinsey, Bain and BCG, are too. Experts point out that the reason is that they are increasingly being hired by companies that that have broken their trust in society and need to re-establish their social credentials.

But these firms are all too aware that corporate-social initiatives can no longer be limited to tokenism.They will have to make a quantum change from fund-raisers, sponsoring charity events and supporting social ‘causes’, to building social and environmental responsibility into the heart of their organisations. This is where MBA grads come in – to help them figure out exactly how to marry business with a social conscience.

Striking at the heart of the matter, Peter Bakker, CEO of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, remarks, “Business leaders need to understand the complex nature of sustainability issues and integrate solutions for social and environmental challenges with the need for good financial results.”

The ball has definitely been set in motion, for heralding yet a new are large conglomerates that are pooling money into ‘social impact venture capital funds’.The money is channelled exclusively into social enterprises and initiatives, and the funds pay out only if measurable social goals have been achieved, such as improving children’s reading ability or reducing crime rates. For instance, education giant Pearson is using social impact venture capital funds to funnel $15 million to social entrepreneurs.

It is easy to see how MBA graduates passionate about driving social change fit into this emerging landscape. And the money is big. According to economic consulting firm EPG, American and British companies in the Fortune Global 500 list spend $15 billion a year on Corporate Social Responsibility activities.

Such is the momentum that even top global banks are jumping onto the ‘social impact’ bandwagon. Thus we have the world’s biggest fund house BlackRock adopting ‘impact investing’ and ‘green bonds’ created to fund projects that have environmental benefits. They are not alone. Says Hugh Lawson at Goldman Sachs, “Our investing clients are interested in deploying their assets in a way that amplifies their broader values while generating investment returns.”

Recognising this for what it is – an integral part of how businesses will have to behave in future – some business school have already embraced social impact and are building it into their curricula. INSEAD has set up the Emerging Markets Institute, a think tank on issues relating to economic development and management, while Boston University’s School of Management launched a concentration in Environmental Sustainability in February 2015. A month earlier, Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business launched a new MBA track in Strategic Sustainability.

Lisa Hehenberger ESADE Department of Strategy and General ManagementWell known for its push towards sustainability and innovation is the Institute for Social Innovation at ESADE Business School. In 2014, the school also launched an MBA elective that focuses on social entrepreneurship.

MBA Crystal Ball asked Lisa Hehenberger (Lecturer, ESADE’s Department of Strategy and General Management) how the bschool supports its students aspirations.

She said, “We offer various programs for MBA students, notably a course in social entrepreneurship that was fully subscribed in the autumn term, and many students contacted faculty members during and after the course asking for advice on how to start a career in a social enterprise, in an impact investing fund, in a social finance consultancy, or in a corporate with a strong social impact focus. There is also a very active Net Impact Club on campus that helps us organize various challenges related to social impact areas and students have a strong interest in these events. I believe that recently, students see both a possibility and an opportunity to contribute positively to society through their main careers – and this trend didn’t exist a few years ago.”

Lisa added, “We offer both elective courses on social entrepreneurship, impact investing and business in society, and we plan to include modules in mainstream courses as well. Our career services are including social impact careers within the options to choose from and faculty members are collaborating frequently with the Net Impact Club. Both the Institute for Social Innovation and the Entrepreneurship Institute at ESADE are providing key resources in this area. At ESADE, we are currently in the process of building an Impact Investing and Venture Philanthropy Centre at ESADE that will channel resources in a more efficient way to be able to provide coordinated teaching, top-level research as well even stronger connections with the sector in terms of practice and policy in the financing and support of social enterprise in Europe.”

The number of business schools throwing their hats into the social impact ring is definitely growing. Thus, the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, an initiative led by a UN Foundation, has partnered with no less than five business schools to form investment committees that advise on its $6-million investment fund.

If you’re having trouble wrapping your head around that, here’s something that might explain numbers like that. A recent global survey of business executives by Saïd Business School and consultancy major, EY, reveals that 87 per cent of executives they spoke to said companies perform better if their purpose goes beyond profit – including generating positive social impact. In the words of Cheryl Grise, EY Global Advisory Strategy Leader, “Purpose and meaning have an important role as a strategic, transformational element in business today.”

Read these related articles:
Best business schools for social entrepreneurship
Freelance marketing consultant with NGO experience gets $60,000 MBA scholarship
MPP vs MBA for development sector career: An Oxford Said admit’s blog
What is Social Enterprise?

References: 1, 2 | Image credit: ESADE

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6 thoughts on “Social Impact & CSR Careers after MBA gaining in popularity”

  1. HI

    I am Vijay 34 years, i am in to IT hardware networking, i have spent almost 10 years doing the same job/work profile, now i am thinking of learning new things and going forward for new jobs

    I want to ask is this the right time to switch jobs and get training etc. As i am a married guy so i am worried if get lost and spoil my career

    Please suggest

  2. Hi Sameer,

    Thanks for the post. I am a software professional with 12+ yrs of experience working as Senior Tech Lead.
    When I had completed my B.E, I was not able to pursue my Masters (CS) due to financial obligations.

    Now I have got the urge to pursue my studies again, would like to do MS and resume my software professions in US.

    What are my prospects in IT career in US? What is your guidance?

  3. Hello, I am Diya. I am from a very small place from Kolkata. Currently, I am a fresher doing B.A. in English Honours from a college under Calcutta University. I did not score good in my 10th & 12th board exams due to health problems. But I really want to persue my Masters degree from abroad. I really dont know anything about how to make this happen. But I will really work hard and will do anything to make this happen. I am weak in maths. But my English is strong. Please help tell me how and what should I do? I know my Bachelor’s result is going to be very good. So count on me for that. I have 3 yrs to take preparation so tell me what to do? my ICSE -70% ISC-59.25% 🙁 waiting for your reply Sir.

  4. @Vijay: There’s never a bad time to gain new skills, specially in a field like IT where old ones get outdated fairly fast. However, don’t take big decisions (like leaving everything and going for an MBA) without putting in the right amount of research

    @Shashi: The prospects in the US for tech work has always been good. However, the new visa rules have made things a little uncertain. If you don’t want to deal with that uncertainty, wait till the dust settles.

    @Diya: Here’s all that you need to start thinking about:

    @Upgupta: See of this helps sort out the dilemma:

    @Simran: Don’t rely on others to tell you which line you should pursue. Check out the placement reports of each of these options and see where graduates are heading and what kind of work they’re doing. Then talk to some of them to get a first hand impression of the ground realities. That should put you in a strong position to take a call.

  5. HI,

    I have already done my B.Tech in Electronics and Comm engg and done MBA in Marketing immediately after my engineering (Both from India). I also have 3 years+ Marketing and sales experience after my MBA. But i want to further pursue studies in countries like USA.
    Which is the best course i should choose?? Should i go with MS in Electronics or can i switch to MS in Computer Science domain?


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