MBAs for Social Impact | How MBAs Can Be Used To Do Good

The social impact space is blowing up, so Social Impact MBAs are only going to become more of a “thing,” but even if you don’t pursue a specific MBA program on social impact, how can you use an MBA to contribute? 

Angela Guido is joined by Vijay Raghunathan, an MBA, social impact entrepreneur and now senior advisor at Career Protocol to talk about how you can use the opportunities provided to you in business school to do good in this world.

YouTube video

Prefer to read? Here’s the transcript:

Social impact is the post-MBA career category that is in absolute highest demand these days. The question is, can you get into business school on a platform of social impact? Should you try? And then how do you actually make that career happen once you get into business school? Good morning, everyone! It's Monday, and that means it's MBA Monday. I'm Angela Guido, the founder of Career Protocol, and I'm dishing out the MBA hits every Monday, helping you make the most of your MBA application journey, have fun in the process, show your authentic self and achieve your MBA dreams. Today I am talking about social impact MBAs with my very special guest Vijay Raghunathan. Say hello, VJ! I call him VJ.

Vijay: Hey, Angela, lovely to see you.

Angela: Vijay was a former client of mine when he was applying to business school many moons ago, and now he is a social entrepreneur and a Senior Instructor at Career Protocol. So he is perfectly positioned to help you understand how to make the most of social impact opportunities through the MBA for your career. So, first question for you, Vijay — like, really interesting story and I know the whole story here, but I'm going to let him tell it to you — how did you end up starting a social enterprise at Stanford when you went in with a platform of goals that included going into clean energy general management, post MBA? That's quite a switch from what you wrote about in your essays. What gives? Tell us the story.

Vijay: I wake up every morning asking myself that question, Angela. I would say the easiest answer is that when I got into Stanford, the culture of Stanford is all about exploration and they encourage you right from day one or day zero, and I think that's really what made me end up in social impact. And that's the most wonderful thing that's happened to me through Stanford or even in my life, like one of the biggest decisions or turning points, I would say. Yes, you're right. I did start off in my application I said I wanted to work in a mid-career role to start with and to be a Chief Sustainability Officer, that was always my dream and I was headed right there. My career trajectory was all super lined up with that. What happened at Stanford was I still took all the same experience and I was exposed to a bunch of things around social impact, impact investing, sustainable finance, and more importantly, company-building experience and knowledge, and that all made me think, you know, what if I could take a problem that bothers me the most and build something from scratch to solve that?

Angela: So, Vijay is obviously a fan of Stanford as an alum of that program and there's no question that the Stanford GSB community is a hotbed of social entrepreneurship and socially-minded people. But tons of MBA programs have offerings that will help people launch social enterprises or at the very least pivot their career in the social impact direction. You don't have to go to Stanford. So Vijay, what would you suggest people look for in their MBA programs? What kinds of clubs and classes? How do you assess which programs are going to give you what you need to become a social impact professional or social entrepreneur post MBA and what are some of the most important experiences that you had that got you moving in that direction?

Vijay: I would say you can approach this a couple of different ways. So first of all, you're going to be in a class with people who come from the social impact background. So even if you don't know anything about the social impact space, you are surrounded by people who've done a lot of things in the social impact space. So every class, at least between 5 to 10% of every cohort, will have people who started companies in Africa, in India, in the US, helping underserved communities. Angela the definition of social impact is much broader these days. Even within huge companies there is the CSR (corporate social responsibility) departments or social impact departments, where people that are leaders from those departments are coming into programs as well. There are leadership positions that you can go into post MBA in those companies as well. And it's perfectly normal, especially in the last two to three years, the social impact business has grown so much that I recently read in The New York Times that it's about a $1.7 trillion economy, this whole social impact business or market in the US. Right? So there are numerous career options and there are numerous courses. And the way I would say is you can be either building a company in social impact, you can be taking corporate roles in social impact, you could be investing in social impact, you could even be doing research in social impact, right? And when I say research I mean in the public sector, in the government, you can take policy roles in social impact. Now all of these are perfectly valid carrier options today and when you get into your business school, you can explore things around these four domains and social impact.

  • Keep an eye out for MBA peers with a social impact background
  • Social impact is a huge and varied field
  • Create a company, take a corporate role, invest, or research

Angela: So are there any deal makers or deal breakers that students should be looking for when they're assessing the compatibility of their MBA program for social impact?

Vijay: I would definitely ask them to take a look at the alum, speak to the alumni group and see where are they working. First to see where the alumni are working. If less than 1% of the alumni are working in any of the social impact areas, then it doesn't matter what they say in the website, they probably don't have the resources to encourage you to take that path, right? So that's the first point. And second, I would definitely ask them to explore clubs and courses around social impact. There are usually some good ones, like Duke, Stanford, Harvard, Yale have social entrepreneurship clubs or sustainability clubs. So you can definitely look at those and if they have those, then that is a really good sign. And finally, this is something slightly more exclusive, but some of these programs in the business schools give you what they call loan forgiveness, which for people who take up a career in social impact, whether it's not-for-profit or for-profit, they forgive your loan payment after you finish, after you graduate. And that's a huge thing because people know — there's no secret here — if you're taking a career in social impact, you're not going there for the money. You're going there for actually creating meaningful impact for people who you care about in the communities you care about, and that's a perfectly normal choice. But some of the really good schools, knowing that you have to do that, they manage to give you this extra financial incentive. So that's also something to look for.

  • Find out how many of the alumni work in social impact
  • See if there are clubs or courses around social impact
  • Loan forgiveness

Angela: Fantastic tips. Look at alumni, look at clubs and classes, and investigate whether your target schools have loan forgiveness for nonprofit and social impact entrepreneurs. Really good tips, Vijay. So Vijay, we worked so long on your career game plan when we were working on your applications together. How did you end up doing something so different?

Vijay: I think the honest thing, Angela, is when I did my MBA application, though I didn't say anything about social impact or building a company, the Career Protocol approach really digs deep into values. And in my particular case, I was really able to find what that was and when I finished the application process I still talked to my friends and people who were lost in their careers and I said, you know what? Just even doing this MBA application process with Career Protocol, my consultants, helped me so much in understanding what matters the most to me. And knowing that always helped when I was in business school. Though, it was not the exact job, I knew what my values were, I knew what impact I wanted to make in the world, I knew what problems I wanted to solve, and I knew my strengths. And so being that level of self-aware really helped me in picking the right job later, in designing my own carrier path. The other way around would have been a disaster if I just written what I wanted or what I think I should be doing.

Angela: So let's just look at one last question here, Vijay. What advice do you have for people who are applying to business school — including Stanford, but not necessarily just Stanford — in thinking through their goals, if they want to go into social impact? How do they need to think about that for their essays and their personal statements? What do you recommend they include when they're talking about their future in social impact?

Vijay: Two things Angela. This is really no different from any other career goal. In the social impact business — I'm calling it's a social impact business because the social impact industry, more, is growing exponentially almost from every big organization, whether it's AB InBev making beers or Apple — sustainability is a huge topic and they invest so much money in it and it's part of their business. Everybody has part of the 1% pledge these days, giving back to their community. So, I’m saying it’s the same exact as a carrier in private equity or venture capital or investment banking or doing a tech role in a company. So I would approach it exactly the same way: what is it you care about? What do you want to do? And I would start there and then build up your career game plan in the same logical way. What are the steps from where you are to where you want to go? So what would be the target companies you're targeting and what kind of roles? And all of these are perfectly researchable at this stage. You can look at job descriptions, you can talk to alumni who have taken up jobs in the social impact space and then devise your career game plan and approach it exactly the same way. There is honestly no difference. And be bold about it. I would always say this, be bold about your social impact goals and your career in social impact. And schools love it when you're honest and it’ll come through.

Angela: Amazing advice for aspiring social entrepreneurs and MBA applicants of all types. Please be sure, before this video ends, to subscribe to our channel and like this video so that more people can find our awesome content. And by the way, if you're interested in working on your MBA applications and pursuing your MBA dreams directly with Vijay, you can apply to work with the Career Protocol team and sign up for a free strategy consultation with this link. I know that Vijay would love to work with you if you have a heart and if you have a goal to make the world a better place through your MBA. This has been MBA Monday. Thank you so much Vijay.

Vijay: Bye everyone!

Angela: We'll see you next week!

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Angela Guido

Student of Human Nature| Founder of Career Protocol

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