Two Essential Steps to Make an Impact with Your MBA


Throughout its history, the social impact sector has played host to relatively few MBAs. This is not because the degree is somehow an anathema to the sector. In fact, we are now seeing demand for the MBA skill set in the sector due in part to the rise of social enterprises and an intensifying focus on quantitative methods for measuring impact.

So how can you, a recent graduate or MBA track professional translate your skills into a tangible social impact?

Two Essential Tips

Here are two essential tips I have learned from my experience working with some of the top MBAs in the world as the founder of the social impact immersion program Quarterback.

Note: For the purposes of this article, I will be talking about direct employment in the social impact sector (nonprofits and social enterprise), which is only one of many pathways to making an impact with your MBA. For additional tips and a deeper discussion on the topic, you can check out my prior Evisors webinar, ‘Translating Your MBA into Social Impact’ (originally aired March 18 @ 2 pm ET. Recording available).

Tip #1: Recognize You’re a Non-Traditional Hire

Social impact organizations do not have a lengthy history of employing MBAs. This puts MBAs squarely into the ‘non-traditional hire’ camp for the vast majority of organizations. Being a non-traditional hire isn’t the scarlet letter it sounds like. Instead, it just requires you to take on a few additional responsibilities as an applicant.

…you need to educate a potential employer on the value of your degree.

What responsibilities? Your principal one is education. As a non-traditional hire, you need to educate a potential employer on the value of your degree. This sounds like added work but it actually provides you an opportunity to describe YOUR perception of your degree’s value and a key advantage; to tailor your response to their needs and drive the conversation to your unique skills.

In traditional career paths for MBAs, both sides walk into the conversation with preconceptions of the value and content of an MBA—the relative unfamiliarity should be seen as a blank canvas. For starters, I would highlight abilities like creative problem solving, analytical rigor, and professionalism. These are traits Quarterback highlights as we educate our nonprofit partners on the MBA skill set, for example.

…highlight abilities like creative problem solving, analytical rigor, and professionalism.

What if they have a negative view of MBAs? This is possible (though rare). In my experience, your options are two-fold: 1) don’t get defensive and lead with examples of how you’re a doer and convince them that way, or 2) move on. Bottom line, if you can’t get them on board with the value of your education, (and by extension, the value you can provide them), then keep looking. You don’t want to be trying to make an impact at a place that doesn’t value you and your skills.

Conclusion: Be an ambassador for the MBA skill set and educate the impact sector on the value you can provide with that skill set. 

Tip #2: Work with Organizations You Admire

The social impact sector is extremely diverse. Organizations range widely in mission, model, and purpose. I’ve seen this diversity flummox a fair amount of MBAs; it can make targeting and vetting opportunities difficult. In order to navigate the market I recommend a quick and effective framework to do this; work with organizations you admire.

Mission and methods are often conflated, but they are actually very different.

Unsure of how you should evaluate your admiration of an organization (process-driven lot, MBAs)? The easiest framework is to think about them along these lines; mission and methods. The two are often conflated but are actually very different. Put simply, mission is the ‘why’ and methods are the ‘how.’

As an example, consider a Quarterback partner; the perennially award-winning Medic Mobile. Their mission? ‘To improve health in underserved communities.’ Their method? ‘Mobile technology.’ Once you’ve identified those two elements; let yourself respond. Are you interested in this mission? Do you agree with this approach? Do you admire this work?

Your ‘yes’ might come from a wide range of places…maybe you have specific expertise that makes an organization’s method relevant to you, or maybe you are passionate about their mission, but the result is the same: these are the organizations with which you should work to translate your MBA into impact.

Conclusion: There is no shortage of amazing work to be done in the social impact sector, but you will make your biggest impact when you’re working with an organization you admire for all the right reasons.

If you keep both of these tips in mind, you’ll be a step closer to translating your MBA into social impact…and a step ahead of your peers.

This post was originally posted on the Evisors blog and an archive is available here. For more information about pursuing impact with your MBA, including tips on where to find these opportunities, how to approach them, and alternative pathways to making an impact, you can view a recording of my free Evisors webinar, ‘Translating Your MBA into Social Impact’.


One comment

  1. Kim Dougherty · · Reply

    I have walked the non-traditional employment role for since the early 2000’s. What I often say to nonprofit staff and boards is that using the “B” word (business) in nonprofits is not a bad thing. Utilizing the skills, disciplines and approaches of a business organization can ensure that the nonprofit has even more financial resources with which to address the mission!

    Good article – thank you for helping people to see how it is possible to put your MBA to work in the world of social good.

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