“It all started while getting my MBA…”
This is not something that I said but the person who said is the one that inspired me to say “YES” to social enterprise.
I mean think of this, the sentence would normally end in:
- I went to become head of foreign investment banking and made a killing by betting against the euro” (I would’ve done the same if I knew then what I know now)
- I went on to be a strategy consultant for O’Kinsey, Pain & Co. or any other big consulting firm, and gave advice to the most powerful men in the most powerful companies.
Instead the person that said it got hooked in a riskier trade – create a social enterprise. I guess before I move on I should explain what is social enterprise:
A social enterprise is an organization that applies business strategies to achieving philanthropic goals. Social enterprises can be structured as a for-profit or non-profit.
And so this is also where my own story with social enterprise starts. Let me explain, I just finished my MBA, the golden graduate degree that holds the keys to power and riches beyond any simple bachelor degree or other masters can imagine, or so it said on many school’s promotional materials. I won’t lie, I never thought that social good was for me, I wanted to be part of that SWAT team of O’Kinsey that goes into a company does nice “strategic tricks”, transforms the company to the next Apple and leaves.
Yes that was me, great hopes I had for myself, hey I even wanted to be a CEO; but then I took a detour on my path, I got involved in social impact “stuff”. I got involved first with a Case Challenge competition at my school that its main focus was to come up with a strategy for Water.org (more famously know by Matt Damon’s non-profit) to keep up with their mission: “everyone in the world can take a safe drink of water”.
Seeing the energy and enthusiasm of the teams from other top business schools in while presenting their plans to the judges something click within me: “I want to have that passion in my life”.
A passion like the one they have.
So one day I found on my school’s career portal an application for a fellowship in for a Venture Capital firm that invests in companies with social impact. I looked at their projects, their alumni (very impressive I might add) and their mission; I have to say I studied this program better than any case for any class on my MBA. And then I applied for a position with one of their companies that works with farmers in India and China, because you know I wanted to travel the world on someone else’s dime.
Weeks and weeks went by and then one day I got a call from a manager at the VC firm wanting to talk with me about the fellowship program. The day of the interview he told me that they have seen my profile and they wanted me to take on a role on a different company; this was sort of disappointing, since I wanted to go to India and China. Anyway the new company was in Peru and their mission is to provide affordable healthcare for the bottom of the pyramid in this country.
And so with a little hesitation, specially because it wasn’t my choice of project, I schedule an interview with the CEO of the company; and yes he is the one that coined the phrase at the very beginning of this post.
The day of the interview with the CEO arrived and it started as a typical interview; he told me about the company, what they wanted to achieve and of course he proceed to ask me about my reasons to do this.
Then it came to the part when he said “do you have any questions for me?”, and I only had one that I really really wanted to know:
“Why made you go in this social enterprise path”
So he proceed to tell me his story. He was doing his MBA at Columbia, and like most MBA’s he wanted to be in the world of investment banking, he even got an internship with the investment branch of a big bank in a little town called London. Yep, he was set for this life, then he got invited to do a consulting project for pharmacies in Mexico that provide accessible meds for the less fortunate. Actually he was not interested in this project, but after a fierce negotiation and the fact that he was the only one that could speak Spanish he he accepted to go.
After that he became involved, and he found a passion for companies that have a social impact. After being part of a program that supports social entrepreneurship and his consulting trip to Mexico he thought that his native country could use a business model like the one he saw in Mexico, to provide access to medicine and medical attention to less fortune. With that in mind he build a business plan.
He jumped on the entrepreneur roller-coaster, trying to raise funds and pitching his idea to any available VC in town. To his disapointment he didn’t find the necessary funds for his idea, so he went on with his plans to become an invesment banker; but in the meantime he gave his business plan to one of his professors at Columbia so he could review it.
So far it has been a pretty bland story but here comes the point that sold me about this social enterprise/entrepreneurship path. He continued with his investment banker path, with a great deal of success I might add, he had been accepted to go work for a bank in his invesment branch in little London Town; he was set to go and start his career as any respected MBA would dream to do. But during his training in NYC he received a call from his professor, remember the one he gave his business plan to. Well the professor called to tell him that he had seen the business plan and he believed it was a great idea, so great that he and some of his acquaintances were prepared to give him 80% of the capital needed to start the company.
Our MBA was faced with the decision of going the way of his desired career and doing his dream – his passion, great banker career vs. risky social entrepreneur. The decision he made should be clear by now, but just for clarifying purposes, he told me he decided to go for his dream, for the passion he found through social enterprise. He quit his banker job, at the last day of the NYC training and to add salt to the wound he got the first place in said training.
Imagine that scenario, trust me I have played that scenario in my head quite a few times, you have your great job, in a great town and with what I could guess was a great-great-great salary, and you said no to follow your passion. I have to say that if I was faced with the same decision I would probably be in London by now, in all honesty.
This story brings me back to my point about the passion. I want to find a passion this strong, and simply put in terms I want to find why social enterprise creates this kind of passion in people, I want to find out why people that go into this path changes so much that don’t go back so easily to the “normal” type of jobs or even say no to great jobs.
But in some degree I guess I already started to understand why social enterprise and social good have such an impact. I mean I have accepted the fellowship position and feel pretty excited about it; and all of that because of the story I just told you about the Columbia MBA, which I still think is one of the most impressive stories I’ve ever heard.
So will I find the passion I look for? Will social enterprise prove to be the path for me? I can’t say with certainty but I guess I am about to find out…
For more about my journey in social entrepreneurship check An MBA without borders