This is a guest post from Karim Khan, Kelley MBA Class of 2011.
This has been a fun semester for me at Kelley—incredibly busy, but fun—thanks in large part to the variety of courses I’ve been able to take. In the first half of the Spring 2010 semester, I balanced out my numbers-oriented cost accounting and marketing fundamentals classes with an introductory entrepreneurship course and a new offering called X572 – Social Entrepreneurship, taught by Professor Jeff McMullen. Instead of memorizing formulas and frameworks, we read the essential literature on social entrepreneurship, social business, and doing good for people by harnessing market forces. It’s a lot of reading; probably more reading than in any other course I’ll take at business school, and a lot more writing as well (I’m talking papers due every class and essay tests—yes, essays in b-school).
What I like about Jeff’s approach is that he asked us to read everything and trust nothing. It’s common for him to assign one piece of material that is a much-cited work in the field, followed by another that is a scathing critique of the first. It’s up to us to decide where we stand. Jeff will gladly share his opinion, but he’s most interested in students defending their own. We read through Yunus, Prahalad, DeSoto, and Bornstein—Google these names and “social entrepreneurship” and you’ll find out who I’m talking about, if you don’t know already—as well as a number of other authors and many articles.
In addition to having to write about our reading for each class, we learned from each other by creating presentations for class. Each student teamed up with one or two others (our class was about 20 people) to deliver a presentation on a topic covered by the reading assignment, and half of each class was devoted to these. The class, by design, was about equally split between Kelley MBA and SPEA graduate students, so the variety of perspectives kept our discussions engaging and more enlightening than they’d be in a room full of only MBAs. (SPEA, IU’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, is one of the most prestigious graduate schools of its kind in the world.)
After X572, I have a much better idea of what my options are post-MBA for starting an organization (for-profit or otherwise) with a social goal. The field is young, evolving, controversial, and resists definition. Our generation has the unique opportunity to be pioneers among MBA graduates. I do believe that historians will look backward and mark this time as the point when increasing numbers of emerging business leaders began to ask, “Is this all?” Unlike our parents’ or grandparents’ generations, a large portion of us in school now want our profit-maximizing organizations to take a more holistic view of their reason for being. Social entrepreneurs will be driving some of the change in what we expect from capitalism and the free market system; financial profit is only one among several returns that citizens and employees want from corporations.
Currently I’m taking X573 – Sustainability, Jeff’s follow-on class to X572. Likewise, it’s challenging and thought-provoking.