Empty Promises: Social Enterprise in the RC Curriculum

This week we opened the course platform and found our second, that’s right, our second, nonprofit case in the required curriculum: Arvadin. Though members of the HBS faculty have written 164 social enterprise cases, RCs have discussed only two in class. For a school that boasts, “We educate leaders who make a difference in this world,” the dearth of social enterprise cases is puzzling.

But why is social enterprise so important to all of you I-bankers and consultants? First, the nonprofit sector is a huge part of the U.S. economy; nonprofits comprise seven percent of U.S. gross domestic product and 14 percent of the U.S. labor force work or volunteer at nonprofits. Second, philanthropic capital markets are big, very big. Charitable giving in 2002 was over $240 billion. It is projected that over the next 15 years there will be a flow of $6 trillion into this sector. And third, it is very likely that you will be involved in nonprofits at some point in your career.

Eighty percent of HBS alumni are involved with nonprofits, with 57 percent serving on nonprofit boards of directors.

Another reason to be worried about the lack of social enterprise cases is that it has the potential to impact the quality and diversity of the HBS student body. Many MBA applicants factor in the quality of social enterprise offerings when they decide which business school to attend. One need only look at the size of the social enterprise club and the number of students with nonprofit and public work experience to see the importance of social enterprise to HBS.

That’s why it’s so disappointing that HBS has ranked poorly on “Beyond Grey Pinstripes,” a website that ranks b-schools based on social enterprise offerings. In fact, this year, after several years of sub-par performance, HBS stopped participating. By way of comparison, Stanford currently ranks number one.

The HBS admissions website touts: “By the time our students graduate, they are prepared to address society’s most pressing challenges and are on their way to becoming outstanding business leaders who will contribute to the well-being of society.” Addressing the society’s most pressing challenges requires a thorough understanding of the social enterprise sector and the sector poses its own distinctive management challenges.

HBS has a strong Social Enterprise Initiative with over 40 faculty members, world-class research and 164 cases. However, this resource is not reaching RCs. The cases are taught almost exclusively in the EC year and are not disseminated to the majority of the student body.

It’s about time HBS made good on its promise by integrating social enterprise more fully into the RC curriculum. We would like to see more RC cases on nonprofits and social enterprise perspectives integrated into RC classes. In order to prepare each of us to be future leaders who “do good,” it is important to gain expose to successful examples of social enterprise leadership.