“We are living at an extraordinary point in the arc of history,” says Tom Tierney (MBA 1980). “Countless leaders, from social entrepreneurs to corporate executives to public servants, are aggressively committing themselves to make a difference in the world.”
As chairman of the HBS Social Enterprise Initiative Advisory Board, Tierney has placed himself squarely in the midst of this moment. With a deep understanding of the School’s efforts to apply innovative business practices and managerial disciplines to drive sustained, high-impact social change, it’s no coincidence that Tierney is also co-founder with Jeff Bradach (PhDOB 1992) of The Bridgespan Group, an organization launched in 1999 that provides management consulting and leadership development services to nonprofits, philanthropists, and foundations. Ideas that seeded the organization’s launch were drawn directly from HBS faculty, as more and more academics and practitioners began to question why results-driven thinking couldn’t be applied to the social sector.
The core of Bridgespan’s strategy is anchored in knowledge: to capture and share insights and tools throughout the social sector for the benefit of nonprofit managers. But it is also engaged in a number of offshoot efforts, such as helping build peer-to-peer networks for philanthropists to share ideas on how to increase the impact of their endeavors. This idea emerged from a conference convened at HBS, where participants responded most positively to conversations with like-minded philanthropists rather than formal research presentations. “We’re trying to scale our impact on the world, not just our organizational size,” explains Tierney, who formerly served as worldwide CEO of Bain & Company, an organization with longstanding ties to Bridgespan.
“In the years ahead, we have an historic opportunity to fundamentally attack social problems,” he adds. “Not just to contain or ameliorate problems, but to actually achieve step function improvements in the welfare of humankind.” It’s a challenge requiring intense cross-sector collaboration and risk taking, Tierney acknowledges—two qualities essential to his past and future leadership of Bridgespan and the Social Enterprise Initiative.