Social Enterprise is a broad term covering a number of areas that span several different industries and all sectors (business, nonprofit, and government). Major areas include public and nonprofit management, corporate social responsibility/sustainability, international development, and social entrepreneurship. A further breakdown of these areas is provided below. The common thread uniting social enterprise-related careers is the desire to blend business skills and personal values to achieve financial, social, and environmental benefits.

For a conceptual discussion of the definition of social enterprise, please see Professor Ray Horton’s “Thoughts on the Meaning of Social Enterprise.”

All MBAs can benefit from exposure to this field. Social Enterprise issues arise in traditional for-profit careers and cut across functional areas (such as strategy, operations, finance, marketing, accounting, and human resources) with opportunities to serve on boards or special commissions, enter public- or nonprofit- private partnerships, or assist companies to be more socially responsible, etc. Given the increasing level of public interest and scrutiny of corporate actions, keeping up to date with social enterprise issues will become increasingly relevant to the pursuit of for-profit careers.

Major Areas

Related Areas

Nonprofit and Public Sector Management: these organizations extend into many different sectors of domestic and international economies, and business skills are becoming increasingly important in these organizations. Management positions are typically in areas such as finance, development, operations, and administration.

Nonprofit Consulting: applying consulting skills to nonprofits. The sector is relatively small and usually requires either previous sector or consulting experience. Specialties include management and strategy consulting, fundraising, financial management, board development, in-house training and development, new program creation, program evaluation, and corporate-nonprofit relations. Consulting organizations can be for-profit or nonprofit and range in size from small but very entrepreneurial companies, to larger more established organizations. Most prominent management consulting companies offer pro bono services to nonprofit organizations and several have divisions dedicated to nonprofit clients.

Foundation Management: MBA careers in this area involve managing the assets or the disbursement of funds to grantees according to program criteria set up by the foundation or corporate funder, and working with grantees to ensure program goals are met. As a unique function apart from CSR, many large corporations maintain foundations. However, there are also family trust foundations, community foundations, private foundations, and others. Common functions in foundations include external relations officers, program officers, and program staff. The role of such personnel is to manage the programs of their foundation and to work with grant recipients on progress reporting and development.

Social Entrepreneurship: starting or working for for-profit or nonprofit ventures seeking to apply entrepreneurial business principles to provide social benefits in areas such as the environment, workforce development, education, health, community, and international development. Achieving social as well as financial returns is essential for the sustainability and growth of these ventures.


Social Finance (a.k.a. Impact Investing, Venture
Philanthropy, Social Venture Capital)
: aiming to achieve social and environmental impact through funding or financing ventures, organizations, and companies. For example, social VC applies a venture capital model and social return focus to for-profit funding in a wide range of sectors and businesses that provide social/environmental as well as financial returns. The venture philanthropist applies a venture capital model to nonprofit grantmaking, by managing a "portfolio" of organizations, and seeks to increase the social impact of that portfolio by providing management support and by expecting results and accountability from the organizations they fund.

International Development: working to promote the economic and social well-being of the world's poorest countries, whether through CSR (see below) in multinational corporations, management of international nongovernmental organizations, business and enterprise development in emerging economies, or through traditional and non-traditional forms of finance: public finance, private equity, hedge funds, microfinance etc. International development career paths for MBAs span the entire spectrum from corporate finance to nonprofit.

Microfinance: providing financial services to poor individuals, households, and communities by delivering financial services on the "micro" level as a means to promote economic development (e.g. very small loans, savings accounts for small deposits, etc.). Microfinance institutions (MFIs) are active mostly in the developing world, although some have established themselves in the U.S. and Europe. Opportunities for MBAs are most plentiful at such domestic organizations, and at the management level within international development agencies, donor agencies, and policy/advocacy groups.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR): working within companies to ensure socially and environmentally responsible and sustainable business practices on issues such as social audits and accountability, business ethics, environment, and workplace procedures. Although some corporations have a CSR/sustainability division, these issues typically arise in management and functional areas such as finance, strategy, operations, and human resources. These roles are rare and often awarded to individuals who have worked in a business role within the company and understand their business model and how to integrate social impact.

ESG/Socially Responsible Investing: an extension of assets management, where funds apply screening criteria to potential investments, and/or assess a company's CSR track record across a number of areas including environmental, social, and governance. Screening criteria can exclude companies in sectors such as tobacco, weapons, etc; examine how companies interact with communities on environmental and social concerns; and assess the pro-active management of issues such as employee relations and diversity.

Corporate Philanthropy: Please see Foundation Management above.

Community Development (CD): encompasses a wide range of community-based activities and social service provisions such as low-income housing development, vocational education and counseling, after-school programs, adult literacy programs, financial services, and more. CD groups often also pursue commercial real estate development to bring services and jobs into their catchment areas. Some have community organizing activities to influence the allocation of government resources to these areas. A few develop micro-enterprises as a job creation tool and (in the most successful cases) a source of revenue. CD Venture Funds are an example of SVCs, which focus on areas such as health, and women- and minority-led businesses. CD Financial Institutions (CDFIs) also cover development banks, credit unions, and loan funds (including microenterprise loan funds).

Healthcare: industry functions and services include biomedical and pharmaceutical research institutions; healthcare delivery systems such as hospitals, clinics, and medical centers; academic and government policy research organizations; consulting firms; and insurance companies. Within the nonprofit sector, jobs for MBAs are typically available in the administration of hospitals, medical clinics, HMOs, and other healthcare delivery organizations. Given the state of healthcare in the US, there is always a need for managers in healthcare administration, planning, organization, operations, policy, finance, economics, and marketing due to the growing number of partnerships and mergers in the industry.

Education: MBA careers in education are varied. School business management covers services ranging from educational consulting to working for educational management organizations (EMOs), and charter schools (which include for-profit companies and many one-school nonprofits). Opportunities include working in marketing, operation, or finance for a charter school or educational management organization, serving as a chief financial officer for a public school system, private school, or university, or working as a consultant to schools. Another area is VC and entrepreneurship (investing, creating, or working for ventures in areas such as school support services and technology, publishing), credit, and advisory services to educational organizations.

Arts Management: working with arts and cultural organizations from small ballet or theater companies to the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the New York Philharmonic. Managerial positions include marketing, finance, administration, logistics, and strategic planning. There are numerous small organizations that might require one manager to perform all of the above, and there are also larger organizations with these as separate departments.

Renewable Energy/Energy: working with new ventures or established legacy utility companies to develop alternative energy sources (wind, water, solar, thermal, etc), increase the efficiency of existing energy technologies (e.g. .more efficient turbine engines), or more efficiently use energy in existing operations within major corporations to reduce carbon emissions and minimize the impact of climate change. The development of social ventures that combine environmental with financial benefits is an area of increasing interest for both private and public market investors, social entrepreneurs, and energy utilities.