As MBA students, we became acutely aware right at the start: the teaching is geared toward a career as an investment banker, a consultant, or a marketing expert. MBA programs are highly competitive, measuring achievement to a great extent by career placement and salary. So, like most other students, we never thought that we would focus on social enterprise as a main part of our MBA experience.
Fortunately, the Hult Prize is going a long way toward legitimizing social enterprise as a valid career choice for MBA students. It channels the competitive spirit into an intense competition that forces thousands of students to reimagine business in a social context, but still backed by a strong financial reward. It feels great to work on a problem that could have a positive impact in the world, and it really doesn't feel like I'm losing out by forgoing a more traditional path.
One of the best parts of working in the social space is that it opens doors. Academics, non-profits, individuals, and governments know that social entrepreneurship is valuable to the world, and particularly to the bottom-of-the-pyramid customers, so they are happy to get involved by donating time or money. With the large personal and professional network that the Hult Prize brings to competing students, this practically means limitless potential for contacts, mentors, and sponsorship. Furthermore, the Hult Prize recognizes the challenges of difficult customers, impact focus, and difficulty of measurement. In order to meet such challenges we draw upon the Hult Prize network and the lessons of traditional business taught to us in the MBA.
While many challenges are unique to the social enterprise, there are many challenges that are best worked through with a traditional business mindset while maintaining a high priority for societal well-being. For example, many social enterprises will keep their margins low in order to make their offering affordable or come up with a creative revenue stream, such as a non-profit owning a corporate subsidiary. While this ensures that the enterprise remains profitable and is still able to have a positive social impact, it also reflects the sometimes-tangential needs of investors and donors.
One exciting aspect of social enterprise is that in the information age, cutting-edge technology makes social enterprise commercially viable where it might not have been before. This is especially relevant for targeting the "bottom of the pyramid," those billions who earn less than $2.50 per day. Many technology-driven enterprises do not have the same requirements for startup capital or investment that more traditional business models would require, and a single spark of innovation can build an entire value chain almost overnight.
The need for innovation is bursting at the seams: there is not much competition, lots of funding availability, and a great need for talented people to solve problems. The traditional innovation fostering frameworks taught in business school can help, but ultimately social enterprise needs dedicated individuals. Would you become a social entrepreneur?
This blog post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and The Hult Prize, an international competition that awards $1 million to a student team of entrepreneurs for social good. The prize will be presented by former-President Bill Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting in New York City on September 23. For more information about The Hult Prize, click here.