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 society, business at the base of the pyramid, cause marketing, corporate citizenship, corporate social responsibility, cross-sector collaboration, economic development, global poverty, impact investing, nonprofit governance, nonprofit marketing, nonprofit strategy, public education, social capital, social development, social entrepreneurship, social marketing, social value, venture philanthropy