Conventional wisdom used to give us a pretty rigid model for success: work hard, get into a good university, graduate into the job market, and choose a role that would pay you the highest salary as you begin your decades-long climb of the corporate ladder.
However, thankfully, the role of universities is becoming less didactic and prescriptive. Students want to learn not just how to get a good job once they graduate, but also how they can make a difference in the world they are entering into. They want to spend their time in university not just learning things, but doing things that make an impact on their immediate communities, gaining experience which will equip them to do so later on in life.
That is precisely why we’re seeing more of an emphasis on social entrepreneurship programs throughout university curriculum offerings across the world. According to Stanford, there are 148 centres across 350 countries promoting social entrepreneurship. The reason for this emphasis is largely a manifestation of generational expectations. As Dr Nora Silver, the director of the Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership at UC Berkeley Haas School of Management, was quoted as saying in the Harvard Business Review, “This generation of students is the first that was required or expected to do community service in high school and college. These students grew up expecting to integrate social impact into their work — no matter what sector they join.” Studies suggest that up to 55 percent students report that social causes are an important factor when deciding where to work. This is encouraging, but perhaps even more promising is the number of students deciding to start their own ventures upon graduation. They either want to solve an existing problem in the world that needs fixing or to co-create a future world where we don’t have to spend time dealing with many of society’s most pervasive problems today. As designer Matt Manos says in his book Toward a Preemptive Social Enterprise, “What is the future we’re trying to create by doing this work with the homeless today?” he says. “What does that actually mean, or what kind of future could that actually create?” This is demonstrated by the proliferation of MBA programs that now have social entrepreneurship at their core. Because MBA students represent some of the most ambitious and career-minded students out there—usually assumed to go into management consulting or finance—this trend shows that social entrepreneurship has really transcended the “do-gooder” category and has become a mainstream and viable career path for the country’s brightest minds. Here are some of the best programs currently for social entrepreneurs who want use their education as a way to learn how to do good.
- Ashoka U is a catalyst for social enterprise programs on campuses across the US and the world. Their goal is to “empower emerging leaders with the freedom, confidence and support to address social problems and drive change,” and to “connect these Changemakers with other students, faculty, administrators and community leaders to share inspiration, ideas and resources.” The program is growing quickly, with more than 30 campuses across the US collaborating with Ashoka on their campuses.
- Stanford’s Program on Social Entrepreneurship aims to bridge theory and practice for its students. A question central to its curriculum is “How well are we preparing our students to grapple with the practicalities of social entrepreneurship in the field?” Students in the program have the opportunity to work with social entrepreneurs in residence and to work on real-world projects that support existing non-profits.
- Considered one of the leading business schools in the world, Harvard Business School is also incubating some of the most promising social enterprise talents. The school’s Social Enterprise Initiative “explores the role of business in creating social value.” Hosting research forums and course work designed to examine the role that business can play in creating social change, bright young minds at HBR are turning into some of the most promising entrepreneurs of tomorrow.
- The Haas School at UC Berkeley is another leading program for students who want to embed “social and fiscal responsibility” into everything they do. With startup seed funding, mentorship courses, and funding competitions, it’s a real-world environment for students who want more than classroom learning.