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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Taking on the Challenge


Harvard Business School, HBS, is steeped in tradition; the renowned school is also rife with innovation, as demonstrated in its highly creative Social Enterprise Program. The iconic institute recognizes both the advantages and disadvantages of such a commanding history. "At HBS, we see our history as a challengea legacy of energy and innovation we strive to equal every day. From our faculty to our alumni, the greater HBS community is continuing to redefine the nature of management education and to invent the future of business," asserts its website. Its 100-plus year history has certainly embraced iconic status.

One of the derivatives of HBS's attempt to balance its vibrant history with cutting-edge innovation has been the Social Enterprise Program, which actually began as the "Initiative in Social Enterprise" in 1993. It was funded primarily through a significant contribution from Harvard's MBA class of 1947 alum John C. Whitehead, whose illustrious professional path spans the U.S. navy, faculty-turned-student at Harvard, transformational leadership of Goldman Sachs, Director of the New York Stock Exchange, Chairman of the Securities Industry Association, and robust engagement in the non-profit sector as Chairman of the Goldman Sachs Foundation. The fledgling Initiative in Social Enterprise was solidified as a fully developed "program" as the result of another HBS alum, Bob Halperin, who played a key role in founding the HBS Social Enterprise Fellowship Program.

The Social Enterprise Initiative benefits from the guidance and counsel of a dedicated and illustrious advisory board composed of HBS alumni and other trailblazing leaders in the field of social enterprise. Since the Initiative's founding, its approach to social enterprise has encompassed the contributions any individual or organization can make toward social improvement, regardless of its legal form - non-profit, private or public sector. Undergraduate and MBA courses and programs focus on governance, best practices, development and implementation of business plans, quantifiable measurements, reporting and social impact. Stemming from HBS's mission "to educate leaders who make a difference in the world," the Social Enterprise Initiative employs an integrated approach, a mlange intermingling teaching, research, and specific activities, to generate knowledge, to inspire, to educate and to support current and emerging leaders of all sectors to apply established management skills to create social value, CSR and positive social impact.

By engaging leaders in the non-profit, for-profit, and public sectors to generate and disseminate practicable resources, tools, and knowledge with the ultimate goal of bettering society, the Social Enterprise Initiative brings concepts that enhance society to life. This "integration" of theoretical and real-life events gives rise to a broad array of strategic objectives, ranging from "building the world's best faculty dedicated to social enterprise research and teaching to providing learning experiences that not only increase the effectiveness of social-sector executives, but also tap into the potential for social value creation" among the whole Harvard community. In addition to graduate and post-graduate social enterprise curriculum, the HBS Social Enterprise Program practices what it teaches and preaches. For the past three years, teams comprised of staff, faculty, students and alumni have engaged in the New Orleans Immersion: Service and Leadership in an Entrepreneurial Environment to assist organizations participating in recovery and redevelopment in New Orleans as a responsive follow-up to the social and economic devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina.

During its seventeen year history, the Social Enterprise Initiative has sponsored numerous research forums and conferences, which explore a variety of topics and issues, including non-profit strategy; business leadership in the social sector; consumer-driven health care; global poverty; public education; as well as the future of social enterprise. Numerous publications from journals and books to special edition academic journals have been generated from these extensive research forums and conferences.

Last February, HBS hosted the 2010 Social Enterprise Conference, which featured knowledgeable social enterprise speakers and panelists who shared innovative, cross-sector approaches to addressing myriad social issues. The event, which also included workshops led by preeminent leaders in the public, private and non-profit sectors, attracted more than 1500 people from around the world. In addition to demonstrating the success of the event, this level of enthusiastic attention also validates the overall impact of the social enterprise sector.

The esteemed campus is also home to the Harvard Social Enterprise Collaborative, a university-wide student initiative devoted to exploring, practicing, and promoting enterprise, entrepreneurship and innovation for social good. The Collaborative enables students and alumni from various fields of study and with various skills and expertise to jointly work to create real solutions to social issues through for-profit, non-profit and public enterprise.

In 2005, Jay O. Light was named Dean of HBS. On the 15th anniversary of the Social Enterprise Initiative, Light rigorously applauded the endeavor, stating, "Its impact is evident in every aspect of the work we do at Harvard Business School - from the faculty's research and the generation of new knowledge, to MBA courses, to executive education offerings, to programs and activities that foster student and alumni engagement through their professional and civic lives."

Once the essence of innovation, clearly the social enterprise sector has become a concept to all facets of business, academia and global social life.


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