Wharton allows social entrepreneurs to drag passion onto center stage
The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, a perennially top-ranked business program, is set to roll out a new curriculum for its MBA students in 2012 that offers enhanced customization. This includes “the opportunity to integrate social enterprise into all major classes,” according to Leonard Lodish, Vice Dean of the Wharton Program for Social Impact.
Devoting one of only three Vice Deans to Social Impact is a bold statement of intent for Wharton, and if reality pans out as well as the soundbite, this could be a dramatic grassroots kickstart for the American social enterprise sector. For too long, aspiring social entrepreneurs such as myself have been forced to dilute our focus on triple-bottom-business, being left to extract lessons out of the conventional business theory we are taught in marketing, finance and management classes. This development will permit interested students to drag their passion onto center stage, hopefully making social entrepreneurs as boring—by which I mean common—as their conventional MBA counterparts.
Wharton also announced a new Wharton Program for Social Impact (WPSI), which at this point seems little more than a strategic consolidation of existing initiatives and academic opportunities. It will, however provide a single point of contact at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, offering publicity and logistical support to social ventures that have been launched out of the school.
Although Wharton's approach is innovative, it isn't the only heavyweight American university with awesome opportunities for social entrepreneurs. Here's a snapshot of other North Eastern competitors whose attractiveness goes beyond curriculum:
NYU's four year old Reynolds Program has been drawing top performers into the field for years with its $25,000 per year fellowships to five graduate students across all NYU schools, and a similar $20,000 per year scholarship at the undergraduate level. Beyond a great curriculum, Reynolds students have access to an enviable set of networking opportunities with some of social enterprise's biggest names.
Yale's three year old Global Social Entrepreneurship course pairs student teams with functioning social enterprises in India to act as consultants. Each team spends four months familiarizing themselves with operations before creating a set of recommendations for targeted management issues. These recommendations are then delivered on-site in India.
Harvard has a seventeen year old Social Enterprise Initiative center—ultimately a strategic consolidation like the WPSI—to study and support all organizations seeking to make a humanitarian impact, not just social enterprises. This vague and broad mission (along with the amusingly defensive tagline “...this is Social Enterprise”) speaks to the center's relatively ancient pedigree, as it was founded at a time when the social enterprise concept didn't even exist. The expected increasing focus on social ventures has manifested itself with a handful of Harvard's IXP study-abroad experiences delving into social-entrepreneurial concepts.
Cornell's Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise touts an impressive portfolio of opportunities for social entrepreneurs to get involved with. These include a Base of the Pyramid Lab and Sustainable Innovation Lab, both of which bring together a consortium of "companies, NGOs, multilateral organizations and universities" to develop and commercialize the next generation of social ventures.
This article was written by me for publication on Care2.com