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How an Executive MBA can help those working in the charity sector

5 December 2016

The article at a glance

Tom Ellum of Marie Stopes International is studying for his Executive MBA with assistance from the Sainsbury Bursary Scheme, a scholarship aimed …

Category: Insight

Tom Ellum of Marie Stopes International is studying for his Executive MBA with assistance from the Sainsbury Bursary Scheme, a scholarship aimed at those working in the charity sector.

Tom (right) with his brother
Tom (right) with his brother

If you look at the industry make-up of an Executive MBA programme, you would be right to think that the majority of participants come from the technology, finance and business sectors. But what about the charity sector? It may not be as widely represented as others on MBA programmes, but studying for an Executive MBA can give senior professionals the knowledge and skills necessary to lead their charities through the myriad of challenges faced by the sector.

Tom Ellum, Cambridge Executive MBA
Tom Ellum

Tom Ellum joined the Cambridge Executive MBA programme in September 2016 and is an Outreach Channel Director for Marie Stopes International. The charity was founded as an NGO in 1975, and provides contraception and safe abortion services to rural areas and urban slums in 26 countries. Before joining the charity, Tom worked in business intelligence, but a backpacking adventure with his brother across Africa led him to pursue a more fulfilling direction for his career.

“The work I’d done before was interesting and well-paid, but for me it was never about the financial return. The development sector offers me a social return, and I feel that I am doing something really positive. These are really exciting, dynamic contexts which are changing rapidly, and with it all the social, economic and political problems that come with development.”

It is these problems – and the knowledge and skills required to solve them – that led Tom to pursue an EMBA. Charities are being urged to re-develop themselves as social businesses to combat today’s challenges, but are faced with a significant knowledge and skills gap that has become more evident in recent years. For Tom – who leads strategy and standards development for all of MSI’s outreach teams – studying for an Executive MBA will fill his own “gaps” and allow him to make a significant contribution to MSI’s own transition towards a social business model.

“I’m pursuing the Executive MBA to equip myself for the changing nature of not-for-profit work and the refocusing of MSI as a social business. The skills I will build and the networks I will develop will help me think and act differently, helping to create more impact globally. I’ve only just started [the programme], but there have already been two eureka moments where what I’m doing is directly transferable to what is happening at work.” Tom is supported by the Sainsbury Bursary Scheme, a scholarship that is open to senior professionals working in the charity or voluntary sectors who need financial aid to help fund their Executive MBA studies. The scheme is generously provided by the Monument Trust, one of the charitable trusts run by the Sainsbury family. “We knew that my Executive MBA wasn’t an investment Marie Stopes International could make in a single individual. The scholarship bridged the gap for me. I see it as a great investment, and the company is very happy because they are reaping the benefits of the professional development I am receiving.”