One of the benefits of starting a new initiative within an academic institution is the chance to set transformational ideas into motion. In 1993, when then-Dean John McArthur and John Whitehead (MBA 1947) collaborated to envision and launch the HBS Social Enterprise Initiative (SEI), they did just that. "Even the funding broke new ground," notes former SEI director Laura Moon. "John Whitehead provided staged investments based on meeting certain milestones. We now call that venture philanthropy."

The initiative's name itself represented a creative departure. Faculty cochair V. Kasturi (Kash) Rangan, a newly tenured professor when he became the SEI's first head, recalls, "We decided on a broad scope of inquiry. For us, understanding managerial challenges within the non-profit sector was a piece of a bigger puzzle. We wanted to study organizations across sectors that create value for society."

Today, the SEI and the 97 faculty affiliated with the initiative connect with communities worldwide. Faculty research spans the examination of the needs of the 4.5 billion members of society living on less than $5 a day to the application of entrepreneurial approaches in K–12 education reform. Each year, more than 500 students enroll in SEI elective courses and the Social Enterprise Club is one of the largest student-led clubs on campus. Alumni play a vital role as well. "Many of our alumni are the ones who are driving innovation within the social sector," notes SEI faculty cochair Herman B. (Dutch) Leonard. "In addition to helping us stay close to practice, alumni provide financial support for initiatives that sharpen the perspectives of social enterprise executives and open paths to social impact careers for young MBAs."

Activities supported by alumni through class reunion and individual gifts are among a growing portfolio of offerings that further extend the SEI's impact.

The MBA Class of 1973, for instance, supports activities ranging from summer fellow- ships for MBAs to Executive Education scholarships for nonprofit leaders, while individual donors like Richard Menschel (MBA 1959) have enabled students to pursue post-graduation nonprofit careers through support of programs such as HBS Leadership Fellows and Nonprofit/Public Sector Loan Repayment Assistance.

"Alumni have been vital to the SEI's success from the beginning," underscores Rangan. "Their ideas, financial support, and energy provide much of the wind at our backs as we enter our third decade."

For more information on the Social Enterprise Initiative and its 20 years of impact, visit

Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

John Whitehead
Class of MBA 1947
Class of MBA 1959, Section C

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