Social Impact MBA: Change the World Through Business

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If you want to change the world through your work, getting a business degree might not sound like an obvious choice.

But as the private sector becomes increasingly aware of its social and environmental responsibilities, career opportunities in social impact roles are growing.

If you’d like to explore those career avenues, pursuing a Social Impact MBA is a great way to open doors to social impact careers and to learn how to turn business into a force for good.

What is social impact in business?

There is a growing focus on corporate and social responsibility (CSR) in the business world, encouraging companies to think about how to put a greater emphasis on sustainability and social impact alongside profit.

Moving away from the notion that a corporation’s primary goal is to advance the interests of their shareholders, a new definition of a corporation, devised by the Business Roundtable in 2019, proposes that firms have a broader responsibility towards all stakeholders, including society and the environment.

In practice, that means improving employee well-being, being mindful of the impact of supply chains on various communities, and making greener choices. In the context of the climate crisis, coronavirus, and the Black Live Matter movement, companies have expressed their commitment to addressing social and environmental challenges.

There are currently more than 4,000 Certified B Corporations—companies that meet the highest standards of public transparency, legal accountability, and social and environmental performance—in more than 70 countries and across 150 industries.

How business schools are driving social impact

Business schools connect students who want to find purpose-driven careers with companies looking for talent to spearhead their environmental and social initiatives.

During your business degree, you won’t just learn about how to maximize profit, but also about social enterprise, global entrepreneurship, and to leverage both hard and soft skills into making a difference.

Many programs are expanding their course catalogs to reflect this commitment to creating socially-conscious leaders who want to have a positive impact on their communities and the environment.

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For example, the MBA program offered by the University of California Berkeley’s Haas School of Business includes courses like Social Investing, Human Rights and Business, and Social Impact Marketing.

At the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, students can develop the skills required for a social impact career through the Social Impact Lab, a program that includes modules, workshops, and peer-learning activities.

Business degrees also include hands-on projects in their curriculum that allow students to get real-life experience in social and environmental work.

London Business School offers Global Immersion Field Trips, where students explore a different business culture and tackle concrete business challenges. In diverse international locations including Ghana, Nepal, Colombia, China, and South-Africa, students get to work on social enterprise projects.

You can go down the corporate route in your social impact career, working to drive social change within large corporations, or you can choose to use your business skills to help manage a nonprofit.

“An MBA will develop your business acumen, which is highly coveted in nonprofit management. It also teaches you solid frameworks to help you encourage ethical, socially responsible business practice within larger for-profit corporations,” says Deirdre Kane, director of admissions for the full-time MBA at Terry School of Business, which offers a social innovation track for MBAs.

Where can you study a social impact MBA?

There are many options for you if you’d like to study an MBA with a social impact specialization.

Yale School of Management offers a joint MBA/Master of Environmental Management (MEM) program with the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, and at Michigan Ross, MBA candidates can choose an entire concentration in business and sustainability.

Boston University’s Questrom School of Business offers a Social Impact MBA, a degree that aims to teach students how to tackle the biggest social and environmental challenges of today through entrepreneurship and responsible business practices.

At Berkeley Haas, the Center for Social Sector Leadership (CSSL) connects students with top nonprofit leaders and public sector organizations, while the Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership focuses on developing a diverse and equitable corporate world.

Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management offers a Social Impact Pathway for MBA students who are taught to define social value; identify and implement strategies to bring about change through partnerships between business, government, and nonprofits; and anticipate and manage value conflicts.

In Europe, Oxford Saïd is known for creating socially conscious grads with about 8 percent of the school’s MBA cohort going on to careers in social or environmental impact. That includes sectors like sustainable finance, impact investing, responsible for-profit business, or nonprofit and public management.

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On the Global MBA at France’s ESSEC Business School, meanwhile, every module contains an element of sustainability, and students get the opportunity to work on sustainability projects for companies like BNP Paribas.

ESSEC also partners with sustainable startups and aims to widen the use of virtual reality for summits, conferences, and networking events to reduce students’ carbon footprint.

“We aim for sustainability to be more than just a subject you cover in school, but rather a topic that is discussed in every class you take because it is applicable to every area,” says Carina Hopper, a guest lecturer in sustainability at ESSEC.

“Participants have an interesting advantage as their knowledge in this area can often surpass that of their superiors,” she adds. “When they move into companies, they can immediately be the ones who are turned to on these topics.”

By pursuing a Social Impact MBA, you’ll deep dive into CSR, build connections with top companies championing sustainability, and learn how to balance profit with purpose.

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