Effective Leadership of Social Enterprise

Course Number 1520

Senior Lecturer Michael Chu
Winter, 13 2-Hour Sessions


This course is about the leadership challenges of creating and sustaining high performing nonprofit organizations. The operating environment for nonprofit organizations is changing as dynamically as it is for businesses. Yet the theory of how to effectively manage nonprofits is in many cases just being formulated. This course enables the student to examine the applicability of for-profit management approaches to nonprofit organizational challenges as well as how to adapt them to the unique dimensions of a nonprofit organization. Management approaches and frameworks created specifically for the nonprofit sector will also be examined.

Leaders from social enterprises will attend most classes to discuss how they have dealt with issues addressed in the cases. These guests include CEOs from organizations as diverse as Lincoln Center, Harlem Children's Zone, and The Nature Conservancy. The two-hour format will allow for in-depth discussions and ample time to actively engage with guests.

Educational Objectives

The goal of this course is to explore the key determinants of superior performance in social enterprises, with a primary focus on nonprofit organizations, through the prism of top management and/or board leadership. Students will seek to determine common management themes and approaches. The objective is to build skills required to lead and, in some cases, reinvent institutions that are dealing with critical challenges facing societies around the globe.

As is the case with complex for-profit businesses, students will have the opportunity to apply knowledge acquired in other MBA courses in an interdisciplinary fashion. Because the nonprofit operating environment is so different, and most would agree more complex than the business environment, previous ELSE enrollees have observed that this experience has sharpened their for-profit management skills.

While many of the class discussions will be based on written cases, we will not be bound by the traditional HBS class format. For example, one class could be a "real time" discussion with a CEO of a large arts organization discussing the optimum role of the board. Another class might include a panel of experts on performance measurement in the nonprofit sector.

Target Students

ELSE is designed for a range of students including those who, during their professional careers, are considering a leadership position in a social enterprise; are interested in consulting to social enterprises; are planning to serve as board members or to become funders. In addition to HBS students, a limited number of cross-registrants from other graduate programs will be admitted.

Course Paper

Students will be asked to write a paper of no more than 25 pages, with at least one partner. The paper should evaluate how an established social enterprise is dealing with an issue addressed in the course, e.g., mission and strategy development, marketing, board leadership, CEO-board relationships, performance measurement, managing change, etc.

Seminar Modules

The seminar consists of 13 two-hour sessions organized into 5 modules, with a final 14th class dedicated to the presentation and discussion of student papers:

  1. Aligning Mission, Strategy and Structure (4 sessions)
  2. Revenue Generation and Marketing (2 Sessions)
  3. Measuring a Nonprofit Org.'s Effectiveness and Understanding its Financial Health (2 sessions)
  4. Effecting Change in a Social Enterprise (3 sessions)
  5. Governing the Nonprofit Organization (2 sessions)

Cases and reading materials are assigned for each class; the amount of reading each week will reflect the longer two-hour sessions.