The next generation’s ambitions and sense of what’s possible in the world of social change have grown dramatically over the last twenty years. This evolution was patent in the halls of Spain’s IESE business school at the latest edition of their student-run ‘Doing Good and Doing Well’ European conference. College students and young MBAs in Europe and North America have moved from being mere observers to actors, from interested consumers to ‘investors’ in social change initiatives. And I believe their vision of businesses’ role in social change has played a significant role in this evolution.
As family and foundation leaders, we need realize that today’s generation wants to be involved in a hands-on way. They want to be actors and decision-makers, not simply passive charitable donors. And they increasingly see business vehicles as legitimate way to create social change.
When I was in business school in 1992, the undergraduate students I met were convinced that MBAs were the antithesis of social thinkers. They were incredulous when I introduced them to the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility, and when I rattled off concrete examples like Ben & Jerry’s. In contrast, many of the MBAs were fascinated by the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility. But, with a few notable exceptions, when I helped launch Stanford’s first Net Impact chapter (then known as SRB – Students for Responsible Business), my classmates were very eager to hear from Anita Roddick or from Laura Scher of Working Assets, but didn’t imagine themselves in similar roles after graduation. They did not see themselves leading businesses as forces for good.
I first noticed that a critical mass of newly minted MBAs were buying into the idea of harnessing business models for social good 10 years later when I became a judge for Harvard Business School’s annual Business Plan Competition. That was the first year the Social Enterprise track at this competition had more entries than then ‘traditional’ track. Today, after 10 more years, undergrad liberal arts colleges that don’t even offer degrees in business are sprouting Social Entrepreneurship clubs and the same phenomenon is happening. At Colby College, for example, both winners of the first school-wide business plan competition turned out to be mission-focused ventures, despite the fact that the word ‘social’ appeared nowhere in the competition guidelines.
But it was what I heard about Doing Good and Doing Well that really caught my attention. Students from IESE, ESADE and Columbia Business School were not just competing to be social entrepreneurs; they were preparing themselves to be social investors, through a Social Investment Competition. In an extremely condensed timeframe, teams of business students went through the entire process of investing in real ventures led by social entrepreneurs and were critiqued and judged by a panel of experienced social investors, including Catalina Parra, my colleague at Philanthropic Intelligence.
This next generation of philanthropists is invested in social entrepreneurship. Are we ready to welcome them?
Kristin Majeska is partner at Philanthropic Intelligence.