Alnoor Ebrahim

Associate Professor of Business Administration

Alnoor Ebrahim is an Associate Professor in the Social Enterprise Initiative at the Harvard Business School. His research and teaching focus on the challenges of performance management, accountability, and governance facing organizations with a social purpose. He is also affiliated with the Hauser Institute for Civil Society at the Center for Public Leadership, Harvard University.

Professor Ebrahim is author of the award-winning book, NGOs and Organizational Change: Discourse, Reporting, and Learning, and is co-editor, with Edward Weisband, of Global Accountabilities: Participation, Pluralism, and Public Ethics (both with Cambridge University Press), which compares accountability dilemmas in nonprofits, business, and government. He has been the recipient of awards for best article in the journals Nonprofit Management and Leadership, and the Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly.

He teaches the MBA required course, "FIELD 3" and an elective course "Managing Social Enterprise." He has previously taught  "Leadership and Organizational Behavior" (LEAD), and "Leading and Governing High-Performing Nonprofit Organizations." In the HBS executive education portfolio, Professor Ebrahim servers as faculty chair of "Governing for Nonprofit Excellence" and co-chair of  "Performance Measurement of Effective Management of Nonprofit Organizations" while also teaching in "Strategic Perspectives in Nonprofit Management."

Professor Ebrahim's research is closely integrated with practice. He serves on a working group of the Social Impact Investing Taskforce established by the G8, and on an advisory board of the Global Impact Investing Network. He has authored commissioned reports on civil society relations with the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, and he consults to international NGOs on their challenges of global governance and accountability. Over the past two decades, he has worked on projects with a number of nongovernmental organizations including ActionAid International, CIVICUS: The World Alliance for Citizen Participation, the World Resources Institute in Washington, D.C., the Tata Energy Research Institute in New Delhi, and the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme in western India.

Prior to joining the faculty at Harvard, Alnoor taught at Virginia Tech for several years, where he was a founding codirector of the Institute for Governance and Accountabilities. He holds a BSc degree from MIT (1991) in civil and environmental engineering, and a PhD from Stanford University (1999), where he studied environmental planning and management.

  1. Performance Measurement and Accountability in the Social Sector

    Professor Ebrahim's research examines the pressures for accountability facing social sector organizations, and their implications for organizational performance. How can nonprofits and social enterprises measure performance in order to achieve better results? This work focuses on three dilemmas confronting social sector leaders: a) how to prioritize among the competing, and sometimes incommensurable, demands for accountability from different principals and stakeholders; b) how to measure social performance; and, c) how to design governance structures and systems to align accountability aims throughout the organization. While these dilemmas in social sector organizations  are not unlike those facing businesses, they are complicated by the fact that social, rather than financial performance is the bottom line in this work.
  2. Governance and Accountability in Social Sector Organizations

    This research examines governance in two types of organizations: international NGOs and socioeconomic hybrids.

    First, over the past decade, many of the world's most prominent international nongovernmental organizations and networks (INGOs)  have developed new structures for operating more effectively in global environments. How have governance arrangements evolved in INGOs as they have internationalized? What kinds of organizational structures and accountability mechanisms are best suited to different global environments? This work makes use of ten case studies to shed light on the process of internationalization and its implications for governance and accountability. This work is being carried out jointly with colleagues at Harvard University's Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations.

    The second project examines hybrid organizations. As corporations face increasing pressure to address societal problems, and as nonprofit charities turn to market-based revenue models, we are witnessing the emergence of new hybrid organizations that seek to balance market and social welfare logics. Governing boards play a crucial role in enabling hybrids to balance their dual, and sometimes conflicting, objectives. In this conceptual work, carried out jointly with Professors Julie Battilana and Johanna Mair, we examine how hybrids' accountability differs from those of corporate and nonprofit models, and we explore mechanisms of accountability that hybrids adopt in order to maintain their hybridity.

  3. Accountability in the World Bank

    This research, now complete, examines the roles of civil society actors in advocating for greater accountability at the World Bank at three levels of decision-making: (1) the project level, (2) the policy level, and (3) the board governance level. The research finds that civil society organizations have been fairly successful in expanding accountability at the project and policy levels, particularly through the establishment and enforcement of social and environmental safeguards, improved transparency and consultation requirements, and the creation of complaint and response mechanisms. However, these successes have been limited because accountability to affected peoples has not been well integrated into the performance incentive structure for Bank staff. Moreover, civil society has not been successful in improving board-level accountability which requires greater transparency in decision-making, more representative vote allocation, and better parliamentary scrutiny. This research provided the basis for a testimony that Professor Ebrahim delivered to the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services.