Leading Social Enterprise - Harvard Business School MBA Program

Leading Social Enterprise

Course Number 1505

Professor Herman B. "Dutch" Leonard
Fall; Q1; 1.5 credits
14 Sessions; X-schedule 1:15-3:15pm OR (optionally) Field Course: Leading Social Enterprise (6518), Fall; Q1Q2; 3 credits

NOTE: As an option, students can elect to complete an additional 1.5-credit independent paper/project during Q2 applying concepts from the course to a social enterprise of their choosing. Students who elect this option take the Q1 LSE course but do not complete the exam for LSE and instead develop a project in consultation with the instructor, due at the end of Q2.


This course is about leadership and strategy for creating, developing, and scaling the impact of high-performing social enterprises - be they nonprofit, for-profit, or hybrid organizations. Unlike the business world where most stakeholders agree on the definition of success and are driven by market forces, those who lead social enterprises must have the ability to navigate with multiple and often conflicting goals, in fragmented capital markets while seeking diverse funding sources, while facing complex challenges of defining and measuring performance. Disciplined, strategic management and leadership are critical. Students will focus on the skills necessary for building organizations (and, sometimes, reshaping the ecosystems they inhabit) so as to address societal problems and seize social opportunities more effectively.

Course Content and Organization

LSE is organized around FOUR core themes.

Students explore how to:

a) Construct a value-creating mission;

b) Develop a strategy that aligns a theory of social change with a sustainable business model that provides the requisite resources;

c) Operationalize strategy by building a performance management system to measure social returns for society and guide strategic decision-making; and

d)Scale impact through multiple avenues including organic growth, collaboration, and policy advocacy.

In addition to these core themes, the course touches on the nature of capital and funding markets and on governance issues, examining leadership and management challenges from the perspective of investors, grantmakers, and board members. LSE draws on cases from diverse industries - such as health, education, environment, youth services, and poverty alleviation - as a basis for identifying general leadership lessons.

The course will include conversations with social sector leaders at various stages of their careers, from startup social entrepreneurs to leaders of established nonprofit organizations. These conversations offer an opportunity to explore emerging issues, discuss career paths, and anticipate future directions.

Target Audience

LSE emphasizes the use of diverse knowledge for addressing complex social problems. The course is designed to bring together students with a range of expertise and experience - from aspiring general managers, entrepreneurs, or investors with no prior experience in the social sector to those with substantial background in fields such as education, health, global development, or public policy. Prior experience in the social sector is not required -- only a commitment to explore the critically important and durably difficult challenges faced by organizations driving social progress. LSE will accept a limited number of cross-registrants in order to enrich the collective knowledge base and experience in the classroom.

This course is part of a portfolio of courses relevant to Social Enterprise. For a full listing, see the Social Enterprise Initiative website.