19 Jun 2013

Your Guide to Social Enterprise

Georgia Levenson Keohane (MBA 2000) has created the first road map of the world of social entrepreneurship.


What is social entrepreneurship? Is it simply an approach to business in which profit comes hand in hand with some positive social change? Or is it the application of business methods to a nonprofit so that it can more effectively achieve its social mission?

"Social entrepreneurship is hard to define, but you know it when you see it," says Georgia Levenson Keohane (MBA 2000).

There's a lot to see in it these days, as a kind of social entrepreneurship revolution has exploded across the nonprofit, private, and public sectors over the last two decades. A nonprofit innovator and think-tank scholar, Keohane knows the field well. Now, in her first book, Social Entrepreneurship in the 21st Century, this adjunct professor in the Program on Social Enterprise at Columbia Business School has created perhaps the first road map of the intersecting worlds of social entrepreneurship.

Using examples from nonprofits, foundations, private industry, and government, Keohane presents a history of social entrepreneurship, explores its impacts, and chronicles both the groundbreaking approaches and limits of the social innovation boom.

"The book is full of debates about cross-sector activity," explains Keohane. "It's meant to give an overview with a lot of interesting models. This is for people who are deeply committed to solving entrenched social problems. I want to show them that they can have a real impact through a number of paths."

Keohane's career in the nonprofit sector began just after she graduated from Yale in 1994. She worked at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, earned a master's degree in development from the London School of Economics as a Fulbright Scholar, and founded a mentoring program for girls in Boston. "But I wanted to really learn how to run a nonprofit," she recalls.

After considering law school, she applied to HBS because of its increasing emphasis on social entrepreneurship. "I had a mentor who helped me realize that not all big societal problems were legal in nature: issues of poverty, inequality, access, and opportunity are deeply economic and political, and often persist even when the right laws are in place because of market or government failure."

The chance to study with Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Jim Austin, and Allen Grossman—HBS faculty who were "pioneers of social entrepreneurship"—ultimately won her over.

After business school, Keohane took a post at McKinsey to hone the management skills she'd need to go back to a nonprofit. That chance came quickly when, after serving on a McKinsey team that helped set up the September 11 Fund, she was offered a job directly with that organization. She spent two years there, before becoming a consultant to the Fund and then to a number of other nonprofit organizations. During that time, Keohane also began a seminar at Yale on poverty and anti-poverty policy.

Currently a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, Keohane says she is energized by the growing enthusiasm for social entrepreneurship. "The whole field has evolved in interesting ways, and has expanded from a focus primarily on the work of nonprofits to larger notions of value creation by companies and smart public policy," she says. "Now there are huge numbers of business schools and undergraduate programs with an SE focus. It's a testament to the pioneers at HBS. And it's fun for me to teach the next generation of MBAs."

Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 2000, Section K
follow @GeorgiaKeohane

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