Karachi Pakistan may not be the top headquarters destination for a recent MBA. But it is the base for Joel Montgomery, a 2008 MBA graduate of Thunderbird, and a Fellow with Acumen Fund, a non-profit global venture fund that uses entrepreneurial approaches to solve the problems of global poverty.
Before pursuing my MBA, I was the director of Latin American sales for a machinery manufacturer in charge of over 30 countries and was doing quite well for myself. The problem for Montgomery was the disconnect between his personal and professional lives. In my personal life, I was leading missions teams to Latin America and delivering Christmas presents to the Hurricane Katrina victims, but in my professional life, I felt the sole objective of my work was to make money, he says.
Today, Joel is working as a business development manager with Micro Drip, an Acumen-funded, drip irrigation company that serves the 86% of Pakistani farmers that have less than 12 acres of land. Montgomery explains, I am willing to accept a lower salary so that I can pursue my passion of utilizing market-based solutions to create sustainable social impact in the developing world. A lighter wallet is worth the satisfaction of helping others.
Internet and media access have contributed to motivating many MBAs to follow their passion instead of just the money, especially when Wall Street MBA signing bonuses have all but disappeared. In addition, the assertiveness with which the Obama administration is addressing the current economic crisis has made government participation popular again.
In his book, Generation We: How Millennial Youth Are Taking over America and Changing Our World Forever, author Eric Greenberg posits that the difference between the millennial generation and the youth of the 1960s was that in the 60s, no one wanted to be a part of the system, while today's young graduates, in contrast, are trying to change the system from within.
Early efforts by social entrepreneurs and enlightened investors have given rise to Social Capital Markets that include affordable housing, clean technology, microfinance, fair trade and many other socially focused enterprises. Acumen Fund is an example of a non-profit venture capital fund whose goal is to increase the flow of capital to entrepreneurial businesses that deliver critical services - water, health, housing, energy - at affordable prices to people earning less than four dollars a day in India, Pakistan, and East Africa.
Blair Miller, Acumen's Fellows Manager, looks for MBAs with operations, finance and management experience. More importantly, I look for candidates with the moral imagination, passion and resilience to build enterprises that serve base-of-the-pyramid customers. It is clear that the social sector needs the business training that MBA schools can provide. In addition, corporations are increasingly interested in individuals who have experience in emerging markets because that is where their next customer base lies and where we are seeing very innovative models develop, according to Miller.
Another model of social entrepreneurship is Endeavor. According to Linda Rottenberg, Endeavor's CEO and recipient of the US News and World Report 2008 America's Best Leaders award, Endeavor targets the high-impact entrepreneurs who slip between the cracks of micro-finance and private equity. While we don't operate a fund, we're the neutral Switzerland that builds bridges of trust between capital providers and the entrepreneurs. We do everything in our power to nurture, inspire, and support these market innovators. Bill Draper, the former head of the United Nations Development Program, described Endeavor as 'venture capital without the capital.'
The good news for social entrepreneurs is that as a result of the financial crisis, many people are rethinking what matters and deciding to make changes in their careers, says Rottenberg. We've been inundated with requests for full-time jobs as well as offers for pro bono engagements. The available pool of talent has never been better. We may not offer million dollar bonuses or stock options, but we offer priceless personal satisfaction and fulfillment. In a world where bonuses are under siege and the stock market is at its lowest point in over a decade, psychic equity is looking even better.
Harvard Business School may not be the first institution that comes to mind when thinking about a training ground for non-profit management. Yet, for Janelle Lin, Managing Director of Step Up Women's Network, her HBS classmates are envious of her ability to 'make a life and make a living,' at the same time. While at HBS Janelle served as president of the HBS Social Enterprise Club, the most popular club on campus, and launched the Harvard Business School Board Fellows Program to train MBA's in nonprofit board governance.
Ten years ago, 100 students were registered in social enterprise core courses at HBS, in 2008, the number was greater than 400. Lin too believes that the blurring of lines between the corporate and non-profit worlds is a trend that will continue. The partnership between the Dove Self-Esteem Fund and Step Up Women's Network, a national non-profit dedicated to strengthening community resources for women and girls and is 'a great example of this,' says Lin. Dove, a Unilever personal care brand, launched an effort to bring self-esteem programming to girls across the country and is providing funding to organizations like Step Up Women's Network to deliver it. Corporations understand that in a cause marketing relationship, doing good is the same as doing well, says Lin.
While most philanthropic ventures still operate solely as non-profits, there's a growing niche for a new variety of for profit ventures that focus on social problems such as Good Capital, a for-profit investment firm focusing on social venture investing. The long-term question is whether the economics of this business model will work in favor of their social mission or against it.
As the lines between for-profit and non-profit converge, MBAs are responding to the need for businesses to be socially responsible. Regardless of what form an organization takes, there are plenty of young entrepreneurs looking for a way to be good stewards of the world.