“Social Enterprise” is the intersection of business practice and the interests of society. This includes how businesses impact society through their strategies and operations — by reducing their environmental footprint, developing products, services, and opportunities to reach marginalized communities, creating positive change through philanthropy, and a myriad of other activities. It also includes the application of business and management principles to help a wider range of organizations — governments, nonprofits, and social ventures — to perform their best.
Why social enterprise now? Management skills are increasingly recognized as a prerequisite to solving many of society's social and environmental challenges. Furthermore, growing evidence from research shows that to be successful over the long term, companies need to be more thoughtful in considering their social impact. Not only are consumers becoming more sensitive to the broader impact of the goods and services they buy, but employees and investors increasingly place a premium on their association with companies that engage in responsible business practices.
Tamer Center for Social Enterprise at Columbia Business School
The mission of the Tamer Center for Social Enterprise is to educate on the use of business tools, entrepreneurial skills, and management capabilities to address social and environmental challenges. We achieve this by supporting the creation and communication of new research ideas, and by providing curricular and extra-curricular opportunities for Columbia University students to (1) develop and apply sustainable business practices that mitigate impact on the environment and (2) create opportunities that expand access to economic resources for entrepreneurs, leaders, and other stakeholders from communities or with backgrounds that have traditionally been overlooked or excluded. Overall, our goal is to be the pre-eminent hub for connecting scholarship to practical impact in the world of social enterprise.
We have traditionally been student-oriented in our efforts, and our center remains first and foremost focused on developing the next generation of social enterprise leaders. We offer a full menu of opportunities that prospective students have come to expect from a flagship program in social enterprise: our summer internship and loan assistance programs support students working with organizations in the United States and abroad; the Tamer Fund for Social Ventures provides seed grants to Columbia-affiliated social venture startups; a student-run investment fund, Microlumbia, sends students to evaluate and invest in microfinance institutions; consulting programs send students from Harlem to Haiti to provide guidance and advice to nonprofits and budding social entrepreneurs; and our Nonprofit Board Leadership Program connects students to board mentors at nonprofits from Literacy Inc. to Carnegie Hall.
Several new initiatives also aim to expand the impact of the center’s existing programming. These include the Inclusive Entrepreneurship Initiative, which is devoted to creating venture ecosystems in local communities through bridging social, digital, and economic divides. Here, students engage directly with key leaders and organizations that aim to reduce barriers to financial resources, mentorship, and networks for entrepreneurs and business owners across Harlem and other local New York City neighborhoods. Related, through the center’s ReEntry Acceleration Program (REAP) and Justice Through Code (JTC) platforms, students gain valuable leadership experience by serving as mentors, coaches, and instructors for formerly incarcerated individuals and others facing similar systemic barriers to employment and entrepreneurial opportunities.
The center has led the recent expansion of Columbia Business School’s focus on climate change, coordinating faculty research on the transition to net zero, and designing new curriculum in the core and elective courses. For students, the Three Cairns Fellows program provides an opportunity to work on year-long projects for external clients focused on the intersection of business and climate. For academics, practitioners, and students, the annual Climate Science & Investment Conference provides a forum for hearing from leaders on the latest advances by business in tackling climate change.
From Research to Practice in Social Enterprise
In social enterprise, we have taken to heart the School’s vision of connecting research and faculty to real-world practice. It is this integration of students and faculty members that sets our program apart from many of its peers. The program itself is overseen by professors actively engaged in research and in real-world practice. Topics range from entrepreneurship in marginalized communities in New York City to financing clean energy projects in China. Our work is often in collaboration with companies and nonprofits, seeking answers that help us to understand global challenges while helping specific organizations function more effectively. This engagement is all the more exciting given that New York City is Columbia’s backyard, with a dynamic and vibrant social enterprise sector and a regular stop for leaders and industry practitioners from around the world.
In addition to publishing our work in peer-reviewed academic journals, we take pride in communicating with a broader audience through case-writing, publishing in the popular press, and bringing research — our own and that of others in our fields — to the student experience.
This connection to student life is crucial. Student efforts are often supported by faculty mentoring and guidance while in school, and faculty often serve as advisors to social ventures — of both the for-profit and nonprofit variety — that coalesce after graduation. But more than anything, it is the informal interaction among faculty, students, and the experts in practice in New York City and beyond, that makes Columbia such a special place to be involved in social enterprise for all of us.
Dan & Bruce