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Why take the Social Innovation Concentration?

12 January 2018

The article at a glance

It’s an exciting time to be an MBA with a social conscience. What problem could you take on? Whatever it is, the …

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It’s an exciting time to be an MBA with a social conscience. What problem could you take on? Whatever it is, the Social Innovation Concentration is your best start.

A group of college students are studying together after class on campus.

Population growth, food security, climate change, biodiversity loss, looming health crises – the world has many big challenges to grapple with now and over coming decades. Imaginative solutions to humankind’s problems will be in demand as perhaps never before.

Concentrations are the Cambridge MBA’s thematic collections of courses and projects run by specialist coaches during the second and third terms. The Social Innovation Concentration (SIC) allows students from any background, and with a variety of career ambitions, to discover if their heart lies in a future role where they are creating vital, sustainable change.

Dr Neil Stott, CJBS Senior Faculty in Management Practice, and himself a successful social entrepreneur, leads the SIC. Neil is also Director of the Master of Studies in Social Innovation programme and Co-Director of the Cambridge Centre for Social Innovation. Until recently, Neil was Chief Executive of Keystone Development Trust, one of the largest development trusts in the country delivering social enterprises, among other activities. He now consults for Locality, a support service for community organisations in the UK.

“Some MBA candidates come knowing that their heart lies in some form of social innovation and want to build careers in social ventures, charities, not-for-profits. The Social Innovation Concentration is ideal for helping them navigate what is involved, but it is also very beneficial to candidates who see themselves in a more traditional corporate role. Companies of all types are placing growing emphasis on addressing social and environmental issues and are looking for employees who can take these important agendas forward. So it’s a great concentration to consider, whether your future plans involve the purely social innovation space or a leading corporation.”

The concentration also gives candidates the chance to learn from a diverse set of social innovation leaders from the rich and complex Cambridge ecosystem. Speakers come to the School and visits to social innovation organisations are arranged. Neil explains:

“We work hard to immerse candidates in social enterprises and give them the chance to learn from highly experienced social entrepreneurs who have been there and done it, dealt with the challenges and pitfalls and built businesses that are solving real-world problems.”

Collaborative working

The SIC cohort are also encouraged to work on their ideas collaboratively, sharing their pre-MBA skills and experience with each other:

“The SIC cohort works closely together, sharing their skills to help each other develop and test ideas. So a candidate with marketing skills and experience can help a peer who may have concentrated on finance or technology in their career pre-MBA – and vice versa. This combination of learning from leaders and from each other is very powerful.”

That’s a sentiment with which Priyanka Agarwal (MBA 2014) will agree. Priyanka took the SIC as part of the Cambridge MBA and found the collaborative element particularly helpful:

“My fellow MBAs on the SIC gave me invaluable feedback on my ideas based on their skills and experience – I learnt about pricing, marketing and got great input on the execution of my business idea. The entire MBA cohort was also a really valuable resource for me – the cross-working with my peers on the other concentrations like finance and marketing helped me a lot – Cambridge has a very helpful culture around that – everyone has each other’s backs.”

Applying learning

The idea Priyanka was developing during her MBA is now the social enterprise she runs today – Connect2Teach, and which she describes as ‘a knowledge network committed to improving learner outcomes across the world by connecting the most credible subject matter experts to teaching opportunities at universities and corporates’. Headquartered in London, Connect2Teach has an international customer base and is growing rapidly.

”I already had the idea but it was the approach to creating a new social enterprise that I was interested in. I would say the SIC gave me three main things: the freedom and resources to work intensively on my concept, including writing a business plan; a peer group motivated by similar ambitions who understood and helped each other; and amazing guest lecturers who gave me wonderful role models. They work hard to arrange a roster of guest speakers who are truly inspirational.

“Along with the component courses, they build the SIC curriculum around the cohort and its particular aspirations. We were given a lot of input when we needed it but we also had the space and freedom to work intensively on our individual business projects. It was the best possible culture to start a social enterprise in.”

Above all the SIC helped her remove her ‘mental block’ on social enterprise.

“I had a problem with social enterprise for a long time because I assumed it was all not-for-profit, but the SIC really changed my thinking on that. I realised you could build a viable, profitable business along with doing something you really believe in and that makes a difference in the world. It also taught me a valuable lesson in decision-making in a social enterprise – make the choices that do justice to your over-arching vision and the right business decisions will automatically follow. The SIC really changed my mental landscape on all of that.”

Priyanka’s advice to MBA candidates is to choose a concentration only after thinking long and hard about what they really want to do in life. “Don’t pick one because you think you ought to do it. Think about what, in your heart, you really want to do and then decide based on that. The MBA, and especially the SIC, gives you the freedom to reflect deeply on how you can make a difference – so use the time well.”