How Fuqua Teaches Social Entrepreneurship

by on March 1st, 2012

Paul Bloom heads up the Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.

Paul N. Bloom knows a thing or two about social entrepreneurship. He’s the faculty director of the Center for the Advancement at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. In that post, Bloom leads the center’s scaling social impact research program and also teaches a course in Fuqua’s MBA program on corporate social impact management.

Poets&Quants’ contributor Kevin C. O’Donovan recently caught up with him for the following interview in which Bloom discusses the increasing interest in social entrepreneurship by MBA students, what impact the Occupy Movement will ultimately have on the social sector, and how in the world does a business school teach a subject like social enterprise.

Given the large increases in MBA tuition and the debt burden many MBAs inherit upon graduation, can many students afford to go the social enterprise route?

We’ve seen an increase in the number of students that come to The Fuqua School of Business interested in social entrepreneurship, students who are truly engaging with these issues in and out of the classroom. However, lower pay for social sector jobs coupled with higher tuitions and debt facing students often makes it difficult for students to choose a social venture path directly after graduation. Some do, but others choose to learn about social enterprise while in school, get a more “traditional” job post-graduation to gain experience and pay off their loans, and then see themselves shifting to social sector careers after that. But there is no “one size fits all” – we are also seeing a big trend in students wanting to work for for-profit companies that emphasize the creation of social and environmental benefits, such as B Corporations and impact investing firms. Still others see themselves going to work for large companies and becoming a force for social change within those companies. As the field grows, the options for MBA graduates who want to have a career of consequence expand as well.

Does the school have special programs to help offset some of the monetary sacrifices being made by students who pursue social endeavors?

Fuqua has several financial aid programs that are specifically targeted at students who come from or are going into the social sector. We support our students at several stages; students entering Fuqua can receive tuition assistance through the CASE Social Sector Scholarship program or through the Peace Corps Fellowship. The prospect of business school tuition can weigh more heavily on students coming from the social sector, so these financial aid programs have been created to allow exceptional social sector students to come to Fuqua and gain critical business skills without worrying as much about the financial burden of tuition. Once the students are at Fuqua, we run a Summer Internship Fund to help supplement nonprofit or government summer internship salaries and then support alumni through a loan assistance program post-graduation.

How do you teach this subject? Are there case studies? If so, what kinds of organizations and issues do they deal with?

We believe that in order to teach social entrepreneurship, there needs to be a mixture of teaching styles – including case studies, in-depth readings, student-led exercises, interactions with practicing social entrepreneurs, and experiential learning. To that end, we offer a variety of courses and a concentration in social entrepreneurship for our MBA students. For example, our “Social Entrepreneurship” course provides students with case studies (including for-profit, nonprofit and hybrid social ventures across varied cultural contexts and topical areas, e.g., global health, education, impact investing) and frameworks to help them understand the underlying theories of successful (and unsuccessful!) social entrepreneurs. We also teach a course called the “Global Consulting Practicum in Social Entrepreneurship” in which teams of students conduct real-world consulting projects with social ventures in developing countries and actually go to those countries over their spring break to conduct field work and experience the context in which these social ventures operate.

Given the current anti-corporate atmosphere on campuses as of late, with the Occupy movement, and firms like Goldman Sachs having trouble recruiting at Brown, etc. Do you think this will lead to an increase in interest and innovation in the Social Enterprise sector?

I don’t think “Occupy” will have a major impact on MBA students and the choices they make. I do think it is prompting interesting conversations that will hopefully lead them to come up with innovative solutions that build on the strengths of financial systems while creatively addressing weaknesses and balancing inequities. I think the “Occupy” movement might influence undergraduate students or graduate students in fields like public health, public policy, and social work more than in business studies – and hopefully will prompt students and professionals from across all sectors and disciplines to work even more closely together to solve the complicated social issues that we all face today.

What do you think are the roadblocks and problems the sector must solve in the next few years in order to maximize reach, funding and innovation?

Business models are needed that will allow companies to do good things for society while strengthening their financial sustainability. Finding better ways to use earned income ventures, debt financing and cross-subsidization are needed. It is also important to become more sophisticated about low-cost, highly leveraged ways of achieving significant social impact. Often one venture acting alone will have limited effectiveness, unless it can change the social ecosystem in which the problem is embedded. This ecosystem approach/thinking is something we teach in our courses and feel is very important to the success of the field.

Is there any group or individual that, in your mind, is moving ahead of the game? What are they doing correctly, and what could other organizations learn from their experience?

Some of the most exciting social entrepreneurial organizations to me are VisionSpring, KickStart, PlayWorks, KaBOOM, and Girls on the Run. They have all found reasonable business models for doing good and covering expenses while scaling up their programs to reach more people and have more impact. We think our group within the Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE) here at Fuqua is leading the way in the creation and dissemination of knowledge about social entrepreneurship.

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