2014 news socialinnovation

Social innovation: Cambridge MBAs lead the way

24 January 2014

The article at a glance

Leadership that has a positive impact on the world is fast becoming a watchword of Cambridge MBA programmes as the School moves …

Leadership that has a positive impact on the world is fast becoming a watchword of Cambridge MBA programmes as the School moves social innovation and entrepreneurship up the agenda.

The Cambridge MBA concentration in Social Innovation offers students a chance to explore this burgeoning sector, and is relevant whether they want to work in the corporate world or the not-for-profit, says course leader Professor Paul Tracey:

It’s all about exploring leadership that has a positive impact on the world – leadership for social change whether in the public, private or non-profit areas. The concentration is very interactive with great speakers, coaching sessions and a field trip to a social incubator. It also involves the Capstone project, where we set delegates a social problem and ask them to design a solution that they then present to a panel of experts. It’s a terrific preparation for any career.

Gopal Rao
Gopal Rao

Many members of MBA and Executive MBA cohorts have decided not to wait until the end of their programme before forging links between business and social enterprise. Among them is current MBA student Gopal Rao, who has been developing a pioneering project to get girls interested in business, and Gareth Lippiatt, an alumnus of the Executive MBA programme, who has harnessed the power of football to involve young people in business.

Gopal’s relay

With the help of other MBA students, Rao hosted a pilot event at CJBS in December 2013. A group of 14 and 15-year-old girls from a Cambridgeshire school were presented with a range of challenges to introduce them to basic business skills and processes.

The first half of the day was concerned with teamwork, and the second with advertising and marketing,” Gopal says. “We started with some standard team-building exercises and led in to some case studies and real-life problems. You’re part of a new team – how do you get to know each other? And how would you cope if you had a boss who was always late?

Then we did a sales exercise, and the pupils had to sell an iPhone to two people, an ‘old man’ and a ’20-something woman’ – both role-played by my MBA colleagues. The idea was to get them to question how they should do their marketing and why.

The event proved a great success. Rao, who was himself a teacher and coordinator of a social enterprise in Birmingham before embarking on the MBA, believes that raising the aspirations of girls from all sectors of society is vital to attaining a more even gender balance in the boardroom.

Gareth Lippiatt
Gareth Lippiatt

Now he wants to hand on the baton: “I’m hoping that this will be a pilot rather than a single project. I’ll be passing the project on so that next year, someone will be able to do this again – perhaps with more schools.”

Gareth’s goal

In association with Cambridge United FC’s Youth and Community Trust, Gareth has started an Enterprise Academy that gives secondary school pupils a chance to market tickets on behalf of the football club.

He says: “We’re aiming to have a real impact on the local community and particularly with children, getting them to think about business. But in order to make it more engaging and appealing for them, the football club brand is important.”

Under the scheme, the Enterprise Academy receives a set number of tickets for selected Cambridge United home games, which the participating groups try to distribute as effectively as possible. To give them the best chance of success, MBA students at Cambridge Judge Business School have been providing tuition in basic business concepts, and some prominent businesses in Cambridge have expressed an interest in helping out with funding and mentorship.

Lippiatt says: “Basically, we’re making the kids aware that as well as putting out a team each Saturday, a professional football club has a large business operation going on behind the scenes.

The difference between this and other similar youth enterprise projects is that the pupils get the chance to have a go in a live business environment: they’re working with real customers, selling them an actual product. All of the tickets are booked via an online platform so we can track who has been distributing them and measure who has been performing best – so there’s a competitive element.

It’s just one of many ways that the Business School can have a positive impact on the local community.”

Engaging in social innovation and enterprise is a great teacher of valuable skills and relevant to all organisations large or small, public or private, concludes Professor Paul Tracey:

If you’re thinking that it’s not for you because you want to enter the corporate for-profit world, then that is far from the case and I’m happy to talk to anyone who wants to know more.