They want to save the world.
That's what a lot of my MBA clients say they want to do, by leading a tech-based effort to bring education to rural areas or launching a groundbreaking non-profit or running the emerging economy practice of a top consulting firm. Not surprisingly, it's an especially common goal for MBA applicants from fast-developing countries like China, India, and Brazil. And I don't doubt that social enterprise is a sincere objective for most applicants who state this goal.
But often, they don't have much to back it up.
Sure, they may have some volunteer experience or have led a project in an emerging economy. But many applicants have this kind of experience. So how do you differentiate yourself if you have these kinds of goals, which are becoming increasingly common? In other words, how do you back up your social enterprise objectives in a sea of those with similar goals?
Here are three ways:
1. Use your experience. The best way to prove you're serious about something is to show that you've already done it. This doesn't mean you have to have launched a successful non-profit on your own, but it's ideal if you have some background in social enterprise. This might mean a leadership role with a non-profit or NGO, or at the very least some volunteer experience. Or it could be that you've led community service efforts for your company. If you don't have much to say about such experience, it's not ideal. But don't despair: you can start getting involved in volunteer efforts (ideally, pursue those connected to your goals as directly as possible) and talk about how you hope to expand this in the near future, being as specific as possible. Sure, it's not as ideal as having done it already, but it's better than nothing, right?
2. Paint the picture. As often as not, my clients say they have social enterprise goals but fail to detail these sufficiently. It's hard for admissions committees to take you seriously if you can't paint the picture. I devote a whole blog post to this topic, but it's pretty simple: talk about the kind of work you want to do and the regions/communities you will target, in the context of both short- and long-term goals. Use statistics related to key trends and examples of existing companies/non-profits in your target space wherever possible.
3. Connect to the school's offerings. It's great if you have some social enterprise experience and paint a clear picture of your goals. But it's not enough. As a last step you have to connect your aspirations to the program you're applying to. What classes will help you address any skills/perspective gaps? What social enterprise clubs and activities (including study trips to your target regions) will help you put what you're learning into action? What kind of contributions can you make in these activities, leveraging your past experience? What kind of leadership role will you take? Answering these questions in your essays and interviews will go a long way to differentiating you.
We're happy to help you back up your social enterprise goals with compelling specifics like these.