Social Enterprise

HBS pioneered the concept of “social enterprise” with the founding of its Social Enterprise Initiative (SEI) in 1993. Under the early leadership of James Austin on the importance of collaborative relationships to the success of nonprofits and Allen Grossman and V. Kasturi “Kash” Rangan on new directions in nonprofit strategy, we adopted a problem-focused approach toward understanding the managerial, leadership, and governance challenges associated with driving sustained, high-impact social change. From the outset, our faculty focused on societal needs and, through that vantage point, pursued an exploration of the organizational forms or processes that would most effectively mobilize resources to address those needs, with a concentration on the following major topics:

  • Leadership, strategy, and governance of socially mission-driven organizations across the spectrum from entrepreneurial to established
  • The role of business leadership and corporate citizenship in driving social change
  • Business at the Base of the Pyramid—business models that address the needs and wants of the four billion people living on less than $5/day
  • Management levers needed to create and sustain high-performing K-12 public school districts in the United States
  • Evolving models being deployed to mobilize financial resources, including venture philanthropy; impact investing; and capital flows within the nonprofit sector

Defined by a cross-disciplinary, multi-sectoral approach, our research framework encompasses nonprofits, corporate involvement in the social sector, cross-sector collaboration, hybrids that were nonprofits with for-profit dimensions, and for-profits with nonprofit dimensions. For example, Alnoor Ebrahim and Michael Chu in General Management collaborate with Shawn Cole in Finance to explore impact investing’s performance metric, optimization, and structural challenges, while General Management Professors Joseph Bower, Herman B. “Dutch” Leonard, and Lynn Paine develop frameworks for rethinking the role of business in society. Through such research, we are helping to stimulate the adaptation of innovative business practices across the public, non-profit, and for-profit sectors, serving as a catalyst to creating social value worldwide.

Keywords: business and societybusiness at the base of the pyramidcause marketingcorporate citizenshipcorporate social responsibilitycross-sector collaborationeconomic developmentglobal povertyimpact investingnonprofit governancenonprofit marketingnonprofit strategypublic educationsocial capitalsocial developmentsocial entrepreneurshipsocial marketingsocial valueventure philanthropy

  1. Husk Power

    In late 2013, Husk Power Systems found itself falling further and further behind plan. The founding CEO had decided to resign. His co-founder is faced with the decision of quitting his corporate job in the US to head to India and help form a new management team. Husk is an Indian startup founded in 2007 with the goal of global rural electrification. The company has decided to pivot from operating biomass gasification plants towards developing solar microgrids in India and East Africa.

    Keywords: Plant-Based Agribusiness; Business Model; Business Startups; Energy Generation; Renewable Energy; Social Entrepreneurship; Foreign Direct Investment; International Finance; Globalized Markets and Industries; Crime and Corruption; Employee Relationship Management; Independent Innovation and Invention; Employment; Leadership Style; Leading Change; Management Practices and Processes; Management Style; Management Succession; Management Skills; Emerging Markets; Social Psychology; Culture; Business Strategy; Agriculture and Agribusiness Industry; Energy Industry; Green Technology Industry; Utilities Industry; Africa; India; United States;


    Lassiter, Joseph B., III, and Sid Misra. "Husk Power." Harvard Business School Case 815-023. (Revised August 2014.) View Details
  2. Supply Chain Screening Without Certification: The Critical Role of Stakeholder Pressure

    To assess and manage reputational risks associated with supply chains, buyers are increasingly seeking information about their suppliers' labor and environmental performance. Several voluntary programs have arisen to encourage suppliers to report this information in a standardized manner, but the information companies report might misrepresent their performance and can thus mislead rather than inform buyers. We hypothesize particular circumstances in which buyers can screen suppliers based on their participation in voluntary programs requiring public commitments and public reporting. In particular, we theorize that stakeholder scrutiny can effectively deter companies with misrepresentative disclosures from participating in such programs, and that this deterrence effect is stronger for smaller companies and in institutional contexts featuring stronger activist pressures and stronger norms of corporate transparency. Examining the decisions of 2,043 firms headquartered in 42 countries of whether to participate in the UN Global Compact, we find support for these hypotheses.

    Keywords: United Nations; Labor standards; Working Conditions; supply chain; supplier relationship; procurement; globalization; governance; sustainability; Sustainability Management; quality; quality and safety; safety; risk; reputation; Globalization; Globalized Markets and Industries; Supply Chain Management; Supply Chain; Corporate Social Responsibility and Impact; Quality; Risk and Uncertainty; Safety;


    Kayser, Susan A., John W. Maxwell, and Michael W. Toffel. "Supply Chain Screening Without Certification: The Critical Role of Stakeholder Pressure." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 15-009, August 2014. View Details
  3. Advancing Research on Hybrid Organizing—Insights from the Study of Social Enterprises

    Hybrid organizations that combine multiple organizational forms deviate from socially legitimate templates for organizing, and thus experience unique organizing challenges. In this paper, we introduce and develop the concept of hybrid organizing, which we define as the activities, structures, processes and meanings by which organizations make sense of and combine multiple organizational forms. We propose that social enterprises that combine the organizational forms of both business and charity at their cores are an ideal type of hybrid organization, making social enterprise an attractive setting to study hybrid organizing. Based on a literature review of organizational research on social enterprise and on our own research in this domain, we develop five dimensions of hybrid organizing and related opportunities for future research. We conclude by discussing how insights from the study of hybrid organizing in social enterprises may contribute to organization theory.

    Keywords: hybrid organizations; social enterprise;


    Battilana, Julie, and Matthew Lee. "Advancing Research on Hybrid Organizing—Insights from the Study of Social Enterprises." Academy of Management Annals 8, no. 1 (2014): 397–441. View Details
  4. BMVSS: Changing Lives through Innovation One Jaipur Limb at a Time (Abridged)

    Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahayata Samiti (BMVSS) is an Indian not-for-profit organization engaged in assisting differently-abled persons by providing them with the legendary low-cost prosthesis, the Jaipur Foot, and other mobility-assisting devices, free of cost. Known for its patient-centric culture, its focus on innovation, and for developing the $20 Stanford-Jaipur knee, BMVSS has assisted over a million people in its lifetime of 44 years. As the founder, Mr. D.R. Mehta, thinks about the financial sustainability of BMVSS, he must devise a strategy that will sustain its human impact well into the future.

    Keywords: Nonprofit Organizations; Financial Condition; Health Care and Treatment; Diversity Characteristics; Giving and Philanthropy; Growth and Development Strategy; Medical Devices and Supplies Industry; Health Industry; India;


    Datar, Srikant, Saloni Chaturvedi, and Caitlin Bowler. "BMVSS: Changing Lives through Innovation One Jaipur Limb at a Time (Abridged)." Harvard Business School Case 115-009, July 2014. View Details
  5. Monitoring the Monitors: How Social Factors Influence Supply Chain Auditors

    Keywords: CSR; corporate accountability; corporate social responsibility; outsourced production; outsourcing; sustainability; Sustainability Management; auditing; audit quality; gender; conflicts of interest; bias; Apparel and Accessories Industry; Electronics Industry; Manufacturing Industry; China; India; Pakistan; Bangladesh; Mexico; Brazil; Viet Nam; Indonesia; Philippines; Sri Lanka; Taiwan; South Korea;


    Short, Jodi L., and Michael W. Toffel. "Monitoring the Monitors: How Social Factors Influence Supply Chain Auditors." Elevate Limited Webinar, July 17, 2014. (Webinar coordinated by Elevate Limited.) View Details
  6. Sustainability in the Boardroom: Lessons from Nike's Playbook

    One surprising role of Nike's corporate responsibility committee is to provide support for innovation. More and more companies recognize the importance of corporate responsibility to their long-term success—and yet the matter gets short shrift in most boardrooms, consistently ranking at the bottom of some two dozen possible priorities. Many years ago labor conditions in Asian contract factories prompted Nike board member Jill Ker Conway to lobby for a board-level corporate responsibility committee, which the company created in 2001. In the years since, the committee has steadily broadened its purview, now advising on a broad range of issues including innovation and acquisitions in addition to labor practices and resource sustainability. A close examination of Nike's experience has led the author to conclude that a dedicated board-level committee of this sort could be a valuable addition to many if not most companies in at least five ways: as a source of knowledge and expertise, as a sounding board and constructive critic, as a driver of accountability, as a stimulus for innovation, and as a resource for the full board. In an accompanying interview with Paine, Conway discusses the committee's creation and provides an insider's perspective on what has made it so effective.

    Keywords: Governing and Advisory Boards; Corporate Social Responsibility and Impact; Apparel and Accessories Industry; Sports Industry; Asia;


    Paine, Lynn S. "Sustainability in the Boardroom: Lessons from Nike's Playbook." Harvard Business Review 92, nos. 7/8 (July–August 2014): 87–94. View Details
  7. Kathy Giusti and the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation

    What do you do when your rising professional career is cut short by an unexpected cancer diagnosis? Kathy Giusti shifted careers, built a new organization that transformed how cancer research is done, and now faces the challenge of sustaining the organization and its funding for its newest venture. Since she was first diagnosed with multiple myeloma (MM) in 1996, Giusti had led an effort to better understand and treat the disease. She had co-founded the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF), helped form the Multiple Myeloma Research Consortium (MMRC), and brought together a diverse body of academics, researchers, pharmaceutical and biotech companies, physicians, and patients to combine their efforts around the disease. The MMRF had helped facilitate clinical trials for promising drugs, sponsored research, and raised a substantial amount of money for these purposes. In 2014, the MMRF was in the midst of its CoMMpass program; a multi-year effort to collect tissue samples from 1,000 patients at key junctures in their disease, sequence these samples to better understand the genetic underpinnings of MM and its many sub-types, and thus enable researchers to study a comprehensive sampling of patients. CoMMpass also had a patient-facing element which allowed the patient community to communicate with one another and with professional moderators. By mid-2014, some 550 patients were enrolled and 85 hospitals were participating. As a non-profit, the MMRF had historically relied on donations to fund its research operations. Giusti wanted to find a way to ensure a reliable revenue stream for the organization and give it greater financial stability. The MMRF had historically given away its resources and knowledge for free in order to speed research; Giusti worried if charging for some of its functions would be at odds with its mission and historical practices. She worked with her executive team to examine potential sources of revenue, and to decide if this was the right thing to do.

    Keywords: leadership; philanthropy; philanthropy funding; entrepreneurship; health care; management styles; management skills; personalized medicine; health care outcomes; cancer; Cancer care in the U.S.; personal care; Leading Change; Social Entrepreneurship; Giving and Philanthropy; Health Care and Treatment; Leadership Style; Management Style; Growth and Development Strategy; Business Strategy; Health; Health Industry; United States; Canada; Spain;


    Hamermesh, Richard G., Joshua D. Margolis, and Matthew G. Preble. "Kathy Giusti and the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation." Harvard Business School Case 814-026, June 2014. View Details
  8. Unilever's Lifebuoy in India: Implementing the Sustainability Plan

    Unilever's new Global Brand VP must not only revitalize Lifebuoy soap's sagging market performance, but simultaneously impact the health of one billion people worldwide. The latter challenge comes from Unilever's new CEO who has introduced the Unilever Sustainable Living Program (USLP), a set of bold environmental and social objectives that he has integrated into the heart of the company's global strategy. In contrast to most corporate social responsibility programs, USLP's quantified objectives are clearly defined, tightly specified, and independently audited. And managers are held strictly accountable for their achievement.

    After describing the background of the 100 year old Lifebuoy soap brand which is now sold primarily in developing country markets, the case outlines the steps taken by Samir Singh, Lifebuoy's newly appointed Global Brand VP as he tries to reverse its declining sales and profit performance. The case then focuses on Singh's relationship with Sudir Sitapiti, the category manager for Lifebuoy in India, the brand's largest market worldwide. Although Sitapiti has done a creditable job in turning around sales and profitability, he has fallen behind on his USLP challenge to bring handwashing behavior change to 450 million people in poor, remote Indian villages. The case concludes with some specific marketing investment decisions that Sitapati is considering and that Singh hopes to influence.

    Keywords: multinational management; global strategy; corporate social responsibility; strategy implementation; marketing strategy; mission and purpose; change management; international business; global; fast-moving consumer goods; soap; India;


    Bartlett, Christopher A. "Unilever's Lifebuoy in India: Implementing the Sustainability Plan." Harvard Business School Case 914-417, May 2014. View Details
  9. The Role of the Corporation in Society: An Alternative View and Opportunities for Future Research

    A long-standing ideology in business education has been that a corporation is run for the sole interest of its shareholders. I present an alternative view where increasing concentration of economic activity and power in the world's largest corporations, the Global 1000, has opened the way for managers to consider the interests of a broader set of stakeholders rather than only shareholders. Having documented that this alternative view better fits actual corporate conduct, I discuss opportunities for future research. Specifically, I call for research on the materiality of environmental and social issues for the future financial performance of corporations, the design of incentive and control systems to guide strategy execution, corporate reporting, and the role of investors in this new paradigm.

    Keywords: corporate accountability; corporate social responsibility; corporate social responsibility and impact; corporate governance; environment; environmental and social sustainability; sustainability; sustainability reporting; Sustainability Research; sustainability targets; Corporate performance; Corporate Accountability; Corporate Social Responsibility and Impact;


    Serafeim, George. "The Role of the Corporation in Society: An Alternative View and Opportunities for Future Research." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 14-110, May 2014. View Details
  10. Cycle for Survival (A)

    Katie Kotkins, director of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center's (MSKCC) Cycle for Survival fundraising event, had to determine the best avenue for continuing the event's success and momentum after its founder, Jennifer (Jen) Goodman Linn (HBS '99) passed away from MFH sarcoma. Jen and her husband, David Linn (HBS '00), had founded Cycle for Survival in 2007 as a way for Jen to give back to the community of doctors that had treated her since her diagnosis in 2003.

    The indoor cycling event had grown rapidly, and increased fundraising from $250,000 in 2007 to $4.7 million in 2011. After the event's second year, Jen and David made the decision to hand over control to MSKCC, partner with Equinox, and expand the event's fundraising efforts. At the time of Jen's passing Kotkins was focused on the 2013 event, but was faced with a series of strategic questions after losing the event's face and inspiration.

    Keywords: not for profit; cancer; partnerships; United States; fundraising; Nonprofit Organizations; United States;


    Narayandas, Das, Kerry Herman, and Noah Fisher. "Cycle for Survival (A)." Harvard Business School Case 514-076, May 2014. View Details
See all faculty publications on Social Enterprise »