Making a Contribution

Making a Contribution

Change demands more than enthusiasm and a good cause. Business education is providing social entrepreneurs with the skills they need.

Forward-thinking indivduals have always employed empathy, passion and their particualr talents to improve the lives of others. Over the last decade, however, the field of social entrepreneurship has expereince da surge in popularity and interest. In 2005, PBS aired The New Heroes, a program about a growing class of creative change agents and social entreprenerus. The show profiled 14 people who have developed “innovations that bring life-changing tools and resources to people desperate for viable solutions.”

Author Daniel Borstein, in his 2004 book How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, says organizations are forging “partnerships with businesses, academic institutions, and governments” to address the social issues. The “increased competition and collaboration” among new initiatives (where secure funding is particulaly vital) demands better performance and accountability for those involved. 

In this context, social entrepreneurs are seeking out business education to help get their social change innovations off the ground. “It's no longer good enough to just have enthusiam and a good cause,” says Steven Zitnick, director of the MBA program at Augsburg College in Minneapolis. “In a generation where young people want to make a difference, strong business skills are becoming important.”

 

Values at Work

While serving as an assistant medical director for Unity Hospital in Fridley, Joshua White decided to obtain an MBA from the University of St. Thomas. “The reality of physicians in management is that most have no real training,” he says. “I could read an EKG or a chest x-ray, but a balance sheet was like a foreign language. The MBA was an attempt to remedy that and become a functional manager.”

For the past 10 years or so, White also has been volunteering his medical skills in Haiti. Before relocating to Vermont in 2010, he joined St. Paul–based World Wide Village with Chris Buresh. Together they formed a branch of the organization called Community Health Initiative (CHI). CHI runs medical clinics in the mountains of Haiti and has been one of many agencies providing disaster relief after last year’s earthquake.

“On January 12, [2010], we hitched a ride on a corporate jet and landed in Port-au-Prince,” White says. “Within about four hours, we started seeing patients and we began to create ad-hoc partnerships with surgical groups organized through the University of Notre Dame’s alumni networks, [which] then developed into an impromptu field hospital.

“A company called Blu-Med . . . offered to donate a real field hospital if we would agree to run it for six months,” White says. With no field hospital experience, supplies, or immediate funding, and with only 24 hours to make a decision, White and his colleagues shared a couple of beers and decided to take the plunge. Today, the hospital has handled 30,000 visits, conducted more than 700 surgical procedures, and delivered more than 250 babies.

White counts his MBA coursework as important to his success: “The logistics of running a mobile field hospital on the fly are mind-boggling. Having had courses such as operations was invaluable.”

“The MBA is a great way to learn about strategy, finance, and understanding customers—all critical skills for running a social enterprise,” says Connie Rutledge, associate director of the Carlson Ventures Enterprise at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management in Minneapolis. “But you also have to understand the impact of public policy and the complexities of social problems and stratification.”

Carlson School students with experience in the nonprofit sector often pursue MBAs to diversify and improve their skills, including financial management. Others seek dual degrees: an MBA from Carlson and a master’s degree in public policy from the Humphrey Institute.

Rutledge says she’s seeing many students with an interest in solving big problems. “They see it as a business challenge as well as a noble cause,” she says. “[Students] are not as willing to see a sharp line between market-driven businesses and philanthropic nonprofit agencies.”

Patricia Angulo, management program coordinator on the St. Paul campus for Duluth-based College of St. Scholastica, has also been seeing learners tackle big problems and find meaningful ways to improve the world: “Students this past year have been interested in applying their acquired skills toward developing wind energy, contributing to mental health [and] addiction treatment parity, developing crisis management methods for nonprofits, integration of holistic clinics into hospital systems, creating work site wellness programs, and integrating corporate social responsibility initiatives into multinational corporations.”

Quality of Life

Beth Ismil, a graduate of the MBA program at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota, is using her degree as the executive director of People Enhancing People (PEP) in St. Paul. PEP was founded in 2003 by Jim and Claudia Carlisle, who had utilized personal care assistants (PCAs) for many years. The organization’s mission is to “nurture a rewarding personal care experience to fortify the independence of persons with disabilities.”

Before landing her leadership role with PEP, Ismil served as a client coordinator, a PCA, and a volunteer. “While I have loved my work in the corporate world, it has a transactional feel. In social entrepreneurship, the exchange is present, but there are intangible rewards that are priceless.[It’s] kind of like the MasterCard commercials: MBA: $40,000; 80-hour work week–exhausting; breaking down community barriers for individuals with a disability—priceless!”

Ismil suggests that people seeking meaningful work should evaluate how they define quality of life. “If an MBA grad is looking at quality of life as including work/life balance, a positive work environment, community engagement, and having an impact, then . . . [put] more focus on the nonprofit path.”

The benefits and strengths that MBAs can offer to nonprofit organizations are profound, she says, such as “the ability to provide a good balance of strategic management development, financial skills training, project management experience, and human resources policy understanding.”

Augsburg’s Zitnick observes that privatization and government reductions in social services have spurred nonprofits to become more entrepreneurial to ensure sustainability. “As money becomes harder to come by, donors (both individual and institutional) are thinking more like investors, seeking higher returns for their social investments and requiring more rigorous business plans and outcome measures to justify investments,” he says.

Augsburg College is developing a concentration in social entrepreneurship to be launched this fall. The MBA program currently supports international study opportunities, dissects cases in strategic management and marketing, and offers a joint degree in social work. MBA students formally consult with a variety of area projects and organizations, including CityKid Java, Pillsbury United Communities, Lutheran Social Services, and Mcgyan Biodiesel.

 

Global Perspective

As a visitor in the Dominican Republic, India, and Tanzania and as an English and religion instructor in Congo, Jeremy Newhouse saw a pressing need for jobs and for microfinance organizations to fund small business. On his return to the U.S., this interest led him to a position in small-business investment with Edward Jones and a mission to persuade American businesses to invest in African enterprises. But he says, “I underestimated the challenges facing America’s small businesses and the level of time and effort it took for a business owner just to survive.”

Staff at the Carlson School of Management suggested studying for an MBA, so he enrolled in the evening program. Today, he is the director of St. Cloud State University’s Micro Loan Program, which provides small businesses in the area with microloans and business expertise. Newhouse will finish his MBA at SCSU this year. He is confident in the benefits of his training and his improved facility with “the language of business” and feels his clients obtain better advice and service from him.

“I believe when microfinance is done right, it can be a valuable tool in alleviating extreme poverty,” he says. “Business school has broadened my perspective.”

Perspective is what the nonprofit world needs most from MBAs, he says. “[P]eople can rush to do good in nonprofits, following the lead of their hearts, and leave their heads behind.” It’s better to “seek answers about the sustainability of a project and the secondary effects of a particular action,” he says.

Hamline University aims at getting its students to think globally and hosts students from all over the world, according to Robert Kramarczuk, director of Hamline’s MBA/MAM program. In their final semester, MBA students are assigned specific organizations with which to work. “We try to make sure that every project is comprehensive and has a social entrepreneurship component,” he says. “Twenty-five percent of our projects deal directly with social issues.”

A native of Ukraine and a witness to the atrocities of both Nazism and Stalinism, Kramarczuk is impressed by the number of foreign students from nondemocratic countries who enroll in Hamline’s program: “I have had students from four different continents tell me that what they are learning they will take back to their community and change it for the better.”