Field Course: Impact Investing and Social Commercial Models - Harvard Business School MBA Program

Field Course: Impact Investing and Social Commercial Models

Course Number 6908

Senior Lecturer Michael Chu
Associate Professor Shawn A. Cole
Winter; Q3,Q4; 3 credits
7 two-hour class sessions plus field-based project

Enrollment limited to 25

Career Focus

This field course is designed for students interested in enhancing performance within organizations dedicated to addressing some of the great societal challenges of our time-whether for-profit, non-profit or hybrid institutions, the focus will be on organizations that utilize investment capital to deliver high social impact interventions, with the expectation of at least nominal return of capital. Student teams will work directly with either an impact investing organization or with a social enterprise in the investment portfolio of such an organization. The teams will work on the analysis and solution of problems identified as important by the organization.

The course is appropriate for students interested in a hands-on collaboration with the management of enterprises engaged directly in the provision of goods and services seeking to have a disproportionate impact on a specific social issue. Some examples of past projects include assessment of an impact measurement system for a global microfinance portfolio, development of a maternal care franchise plan balancing health and economic outcomes in Africa, and creation of a strategy to increase entrepreneurship at the base of the pyramid in South Asia. There will be a combination of domestic and foreign projects.

Educational Objectives

The course involves team-based project work focused on enhancing social performance of an established social venture or social impact investing intermediary, coupled with ongoing faculty advisory support and a series of in-class sessions. Classroom sessions will provide foundational knowledge and approaches, as well as advice and coaching contoured to specific team projects from faculty and through peer review. The learning objectives of the course are:

  1. To provide students with structured field opportunities for learning by doing.
  2. To build skills of integrative, multidisciplinary problem solving necessary for management in general and to address global societal challenges in particular.
  3. To offer students an opportunity to leverage their classroom learning and apply concepts to make a difference in the world.

Course Content and Organization

To achieve these objectives, the course is built on several operational components:

  • Structure. This course will include required classroom sessions throughout the term that will focus on supporting teams in their engagements with their partner organizations. The majority of course time will be focused on team-based project work outside of the classroom.
  • Client-based" projects. The projects will be sourced from a small group of premier intermediary or funding organizations who, either as investors or grantors, are closely connected to social enterprises in the field directly deploying interventions addressing particular social issues. These may be nonprofit, for-profit or in the public sector, and the projects will engage with either the impact investing intermediary organization or a social venture in which the intermediary invests. Students may also propose their own projects with established organizations; these projects would be subject to faculty approval.
  • Multidisciplinary and multisectoral teams. Student teams comprised of three to four students will explore the feasibility of enhancing social performance for their partner organization and develop a strategy for doing so. Given the complex nature of societal challenges, project teams are encouraged, as much as possible, to include students with complementary skills and content expertise. Precisely with this in mind, a limited number of cross-registrant students will be admitted.
  • Faculty supervision. Each team will work primarily with one faculty member throughout the course, from project scoping to project delivery. In addition to the course faculty, other faculty members of the Social Enterprise Initiative may participate. A sub-set of projects will focus specifically on health and will involve faculty from the Harvard School of Public Health in addition to HBS.
  • Meetings. The course will convene in plenary 7 times throughout the semester to: lay out learning aims and methodology, gain an understanding of the field, review common challenges and possible solutions/approaches, and discuss final outcomes.
  • Final presentation. Each team will formally present their study to the partner organization and their team's faculty advisor.
  • Travel. All teams will travel to their project site to meet with client, collect data and test ideas, at least once during the semester. It is expected that most teams will undertake this visit during the Spring break.


Students wishing to propose their own projects must meet the following criteria: the team must be fully formed and consist of 3-4 members; 50% of the students on the team must be HBS students; the project may not involve travel to any country on the US State Department's travel advisory list; and students must contact Julie Lonergan at by November 15 with project details.