MBA Student Spotlight: MBA Programs Turn to “Impact Investing”

Today, Bloomberg Businessweek announced that the Mendoza College of Business received the No. 1 undergraduate business school ranking for the fifth straight year. However, they added, “The top five [rankings] make one thing clear: a top-notch undergraduate program may not go hand-in-hand with a best-in-class graduate school.” Some undergrad-focused schools may seek to improve their MBAs by providing socially-minded students opportunities in the social enterprise arena. 2015 Notre Dame MBA Candidate John Henry explains how MBA programs across the country are moving away from a focus on social consciousness to a focus on impact investment. He highlights the innovative ways that programs at Duke, Michigan, and a number of other schools are catering to the growing interest in this booming field. What would you like to see Notre Dame’s MBA program incorporate?

MBA programs have been increasingly interested in socially-conscious business for the past decade and a half. In 1999, the Aspen Institute first published “Beyond Grey Pinstripes,” the most prestigious, socially-conscious ranking of MBA programs. The Notre Dame MBA was regularly ranked as a top-five school on that list. This field has become so popular that “Beyond Grey Pinstripes” is no longer published. Laurie Ginsberg, senior program manager at the Aspen Institute, explained that “the ranking has lost its relevancy and lacks the meaning it held back when few people were living sustainable lifestyles and schools were not jam-packed with sustainability classes, cases, and clubs.” If the field has become popular and the coursework is ubiquitous, what ways can schools distinguish themselves in this area?

Impact Investing may be the latest trend. Investing in companies based on social or environmental values has been around since the 80’s and funds are currently estimated at $50 billion. In 2007, this investing practice began to be referred to as “impact investing,” though organizations such as the Acumen Fund had been investing in social entrepreneurship ventures since 2001. There are a variety of ways that schools have incorporated impact investing into their MBA programs. Duke has created a Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE), founded by Greg Dees who many consider the “Father of Social Entrepreneurship as an academic subject.” CASE offers curriculum, hosts events, and provides experiential learning opportunities related to impact investing. Similarly, Wharton has created its own program entirely centered on impact investing, called the Wharton Social Impact Initiative that offers similar services. [3]

One of the most recent developments in this still-nascent academic area is the formation of student-managed impact investing funds. The University of Michigan created the first of these MBA funds, called the Social Venture Fund, in 2011. Lauren Miller helped found the fund while she was a student, and she attributes its genesis in part to her corporate outreach experiences she had at Google. The fund is currently managed by 28 students, has an advisory board, and awards up to $200,000 annually in equity investments.[4] Over the last three years, other top-10 schools have followed suit, and there are currently student-managed impact investing funds at Duke, Berkeley, and Wharton.

These funds may be recruiting tools for the university, but they are intended to propel students out of school as much as to attract them in. Lauren Miller stated that one of the goals of her fund is to create a career pipeline.[5] Currently, this field is highly competitive, with careers being built from within existing investing firms rather than direct MBA hires. But some projections see massive growth in impact investing over the coming decade, growing from $50 billion in 2009 to $500 billion by 2019.[6] As the field grows, so too may these student funds. Perhaps in another ten years, schools will need to distinguish themselves again with another novel facet of the social enterprise movement. Until then, impact investing appears to be the standard by which socially minded students will select MBA programs.

 

References

[1] Francesca Di Meglio, “Beyond Grey Pinstripes Ranking: RIP,” October 1, 2012, Bloomberg Businessweek, http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-10-01/beyond-grey-pinstripes-ranking-r-dot-i-dot-p-dot

[2] Monitor Group, “Investing for Social and Environmental Impact,” 2009

[3] John A. Byrne, “Social Entrepreneurship: The Best Schools & Programs”, August 13, 2010, http://poetsandquants.com/2010/08/13/social-entrepreneurship-the-best-schools-programs/8/

[4] Andrea Carter, “My Story: From Google to Michigan for an MBA” February 17, 2011, http://poetsandquants.com/2011/02/17/my-story-from-google-to-michigan-for-an-mba/2/

[5] Ibid

[6] Monitor Group, “Investing for Social and Environmental Impact,” 2009

 

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