MBAs at HBS have a tremendous array of opportunities to get involved in social enterprise during their two years on campus (and long after).
For me, the Social Enterprise Initiative (SEI) provided the transformational experience I sought at HBS. I share my story as one lens onto how HBS can catapult you into a career focused on impact.
After college, I spent four years in strategy consulting at the Monitor Group (now Monitor Deloitte). “Consultant” somehow didn’t make my childhood list of “what I want to be when I grow up”—but I loved my colleagues and our client work.
My early interest in social enterprise grew out of two particular projects. In one, I worked with the City of Newark, New Jersey—and its Mayor (Cory Booker) and Deputy Mayor (Stefan Pryor)—to develop a new small business strategy. In the other, I helped lead the Monitor / Fast Company Social Capitalist Awards, an effort to identify, evaluate, and celebrate top-performing nonprofits.
Together, they showed me the need for business thinking to solve complex problems—but also highlighted the necessity of cross-sector collaboration. Business can be a tremendous force for good but no one sector can do it alone.
Entering HBS, I had an emerging sense that I wanted to pursue a cross-sector career that continually intersected them. But I didn’t know how. So I threw myself headlong into the community at HBS.
The Social Enterprise Club, one of the largest clubs on campus with an array of interest groups, seemed like a logical starting place. I got (increasingly) engaged in club activities in my RC year—and later co-led it with two life-long friends (one of whom had received HBS’s Howard W. Goldsmith Fellowship). We organized the HBS/HKS Social Enterprise Conference, recognized as one of Forbes’ top 12 executive gatherings, and partnered often with other impact-focused clubs on campus.
I spent both January terms on service immersion trips in New Orleans with 50+ classmates and faculty. (Helpfully, I got to know SEI leadership through these trips and joined the SEI Student Advisory Group.) In the first year, my team led the initial round of a business plan competition for The Idea Village and, in the second, we worked with the Broadmoor Community Development Corporation on neighborhood development. The trip started as a student-led response to Hurricane Katrina—and it’s inspiring (yet sobering) to see our current MBAs explore Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts.
During my EC year, I took a ton of Social Enterprise electives on everything from leading social enterprises to entrepreneurship in education reform to authentic leadership development. (I wish I was still a student to enroll in our newer courses on impact investing, public entrepreneurship, and reimagining capitalism.)
Most of all, I tried to meet people who had done what I aspired to do. I went to company information sessions and scoured the alumni directory. I talked to classmates with interesting experiences and helped friends launch social enterprises through the New Venture Competition. I met field leaders at Executive Education receptions and attended MBA Career and Professional Development programming.
Being at one particular CPD panel discussion proved serendipitous. In the fall of my RC year, I met two incredible alums, Dave Schlendorf (MBA 2003) and Meredith Weenick (MBA 2002). After surviving a background check and polygraph, I joined Dave and the FBI’s Special Advisor Program as one of 70+ Social Enterprise Summer Fellows.
I loved my summer in DC working on leadership development at the Bureau—and I wanted to get even closer to the ground in government. After five rounds of interviews culminating with Mayor Menino himself, I joined the City of Boston Mayor’s Office as an HBS Leadership Fellow and an Advisor to the Mayor.
The HBS Leadership Fellows Program really is one of HBS’s crown jewels. It lives up to its billing as a one-year, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and gives MBAs the chance to work directly with public and nonprofit CEOs right out of HBS. And the best part is that organizations offer incredible full-time roles post-fellowship. (My classmate and now-wife joined Teach For America as an HBS Leadership Fellow and has been there ever since.)
After my fellowship year, I stayed with the Mayor’s Office as a Senior Advisor and joined the ranks of many former HBS MBAs who were still there. My continued work with the City was made possible by the HBS Social Enterprise Loan Repayment Assistance Program, which supports alumni in public, nonprofit, and for-profit social enterprise roles up to 10 years after graduation.
My work in City Hall introduced me to Mike Bloomberg (MBA 1966) and his government innovation team. I joined Bloomberg Philanthropies to lead its inaugural Mayors Challenge and develop a host of programs to make cities and mayors more innovative and entrepreneurial. It was amazing to work with an entrepreneur at his foundation and focus on public sector innovation—cross-sector work with a true tri-sector athlete.
And, three years ago, my story came full circle when I returned to HBS to lead SEI.
What might seem like a straight-line path through and post-HBS surely wasn’t. It had many twists and turns and, seven years and three kids later, it still does.
There’s no one right path to social enterprise. But mine was fundamentally made possible by SEI and HBS. HBS is the perfect place to launch a career in social enterprise.
I feel fortunate to have been able to embark on this work early in my career. MBAs no longer need to learn, earn, and then return. There’s a lot of good and important work to be done—and you certainly don’t need to wait. Start doing it now.
Mine is one story among many tales of transformation in the HBS SEI community. I hope yours is next. I couldn’t be more excited to help our MBAs, prospective MBAs, and MBA alumni find their way in the world of social enterprise.