BOSTON—The students sat in awed silence in the packed Harvard Business School classroom, watching a documentary showing explorer Ernest Shackleton’s crew face yet another dire moment as their icebound ship, “Endurance,” was stranded in Antarctica in the early 1900s.
These students were leaders of non-profit organizations from around the world who recently gathered on the HBS campus for the Executive Education program, Strategic Perspectives in Non-Profit Management (SPNM). Professor Dutch Leonard masterfully taught the case, drawing out crucial lessons about leading in times of uncertainty and crisis -- circumstances that leaders of non-profit organizations are often deeply familiar with.
“Every social mission-driven organization today is under stress and facing increasing uncertainty, so all of these participants are leading journeys of discovery – of new methods, approaches, ways of addressing challenges and taking advantage of new opportunities,” said Leonard. “What the Shackleton example provides is a rich collection of lessons about leading arduous, long, high-risk explorations into the unknown. In one way or another, that is what all the participants in this program are doing.”
This summer’s SPNM class was comprised of 159 participants, including 60 from international locations such as, Australia, Bhutan, Canada, France, Hong Kong, India, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, the UK, Venezuela and Vietnam. These non-profit leaders oversee a total of more than 16,062 employees, 111,584 volunteers, 453,351 members, and over $2.4 billion in collective revenues.
Associate Professor Mukti Khaire, who taught cases on the James Beard Foundation, the Sundance Film Festival, and SEWA (Self-Employed Women’s Association based in India), celebrated this diversity. “What I particularly enjoy about teaching SPNM is that the participants represent everything from large 'multinational' not-for-profits, to small, single-office organizations, and they work in all kinds of sectors, from children’s health care, to symphonies and operas. We have founders of new organizations and CEOs of organizations that have been around for many years. This diversity means that every issue is examined from a variety of perspectives and angles, which makes for great classroom discussion.”
Dr. Zeena Johar, PhD, the CEO of SughaVazhvu Healthcare, who provides basic healthcare to the inaccessible populations in rural India, explained why she chose to attend the program. “As a social entrepreneur working in healthcare in India, I came to HBS to develop a 360-degree perspective on the non-profit sector, and learn how to problem solve, think critically, and balance innovation with scaling my organization.”
Professor Leonard summed up the inspirational quality of all the participants. “As diverse as these people are, they all have one important characteristic in common -- they lead mission-driven organizations, and for them, it is all about the mission, and the mission is social – helping children, alleviating poverty, improving health, expanding education, brightening the opportunities of the disadvantaged. It is inspirational for us to have the opportunity to work with them at a School whose mission is to educate leaders who make a difference in the world. These extraordinary women and men are doing that every day.”
To hear more from the participants directly, you can explore our Storify.View Video