As managing director for the Social Impact Initiative (WSII) at Wharton, I have the opportunity to meet with a wide range of current and prospective students interested in issues such as poverty reduction, education reform, financial inclusion, community development. Their questions have a common theme. What will I learn at Wharton that will help me understand the root causes of pressing social problems—and what needs to be done to address these problems? What opportunities are there to apply what I learn, and to get an understanding of the challenges? How do I prepare myself to continue to make a difference after I graduate, either in my career or as a leader in my community?
What we end up talking about is the range of opportunities at Wharton. Our new Social Impact Fellows provide MBA students with an opportunity to create and implement new initiatives at Wharton. Another new WSII initiative focusing on innovative social finance will connect student-run activities of the Wharton Social Venture Fund with a broader range of innovative approaches to financing social change. The Nonprofit Board Leaders Program provides second year students with an opportunity to sit on the Board of a local nonprofit. Students can apply their business skills through a variety of local and global consulting projects, coursework, and co-curricular opportunities. The Bendheim Loan Forgiveness Program encourages graduates to commit themselves to a career with nonprofits by providing financial support. Social entrepreneurs are encouraged through the offerings of Wharton Entrepreneurship. Multiple student clubs provide opportunities to engage with the community, with students across this great university, and with leaders in social impact. The pathways and range of offerings are as diverse as our students.
So what our students come to realize is the importance of the shared knowledge they develop at Wharton. Because when it comes to the issues addressed by social impact initiatives, the problems are obvious, the solutions much less so. But the Wharton approach is characterized by a commitment to critical analysis and to rigorous evaluation. We’re committed to research and data, and to looking beyond the obvious. We encourage our students to understand models that can be creatively applied to new situations. Through the combination of course work and experiential learning, we help our students move from data to knowledge, from knowledge to action, from action to impact. An alum running a charter school points to the importance of her finance courses in her daily decisions. For another alum, strategic management helps to provide guidance for an organization that provides employment opportunities for those considered unemployable. Another uses Wharton training to engage volunteers in youth mentoring. Still another provides consulting specifically focused on social-mission organizations. Others have created innovative triple-bottom line businesses. The variety of approaches and opportunities is inspiring.
This is the kind of thinking that is going to help to address the most pressing problems facing society. This is knowledge that makes a difference. This is knowledge for social impact. This is Wharton.
Want to learn more? Join our Admissions team and some of our wonderful alums at our Social Impact Panel on October 9th at 7 PM in Washington, D.C.
Sherryl Kuhlman, Ph.D., WG’01
Managing Director, Wharton Social Impact Initiative