The symbiosis between business and the non-profit sector
It seems odd that business and positive social impact were two unrelated concepts within living memory. In the 21st century, they are intricately connected in a number of different ways.
Traditional business has long-realized the importance of promoting social issues — and is slowly starting to turn its words into actions. As information flows more freely and social good plays an increasing role in customer decision-making, companies know they need to back up their profits with tangible social impact metrics.
For-profit companies don’t have to go it alone, they can pair with non-profit organizations already having an impact.
As the University of St.Gallen and ETH Zurich’s emba X program shows, NGOs need the help of innovative leaders who can channel passion into effective action. Katharina Keller of EquipSent agrees, saying, “It’s a great opportunity for us to really get the knowledge which is here in the emba X program, and match it with our association.” (02:17)
EquipSent’s mission is to transfer used, but functional, equipment from high-income countries to lower-income countries that can not afford the items new. This of course needs effective business skills that emba X students receive at St.Gallen. Communication strategies are essential to get the word out, logistics take care of the sending and receiving, while business analytics can gather impact data and identify new efficiencies.
The emba X program gives the profit and non-profit sectors a chance to connect during the Social Impact Project.
What is a social impact project?
A social impact project is an effort to make a positive difference on a societal or environmental level.
It is an important contributor to an executive MBA as it prepares students to lead non-governmental organizations or to implement a positive social impact project in a for-profit company.
In the context of emba X, the project is one branch of a wider degree that focuses on sustainability and personal development. The Social Impact Project is an opportunity for students to work in a non-profit environment to understand how social enterprises function from the inside.
One of the leaders that demonstrates the diversity of options is Isabelle Ruckli from Discuss it, an NGO that aims to strengthen democracy by promoting discussion among young people. Speaking ahead of the project, Isabelle highlighted how different the social impact aspect is from more traditional for-profit businesses.
“I’m very curious about it. Just to see how these executives are going to be challenged by our context, by our issue, because it’s quite different to their normal business world and I think it’s a great learning experience for both sides.” (03:38)
The companies that collaborate with the University of St.Gallen cover a wide range of causes, such as renewable energy, social innovation, help in local communities, and impact investment. This gives students plenty of room to find a project that matches their interests.
How to measure social impact of a project
With so many different goals out there, measuring success is never easy. As a non-profit, you can’t simply look at your bottom line, although fundraising is an important KPI for any NGO.
During the Social Impact Project, St.Gallen students learn the importance of measuring the success of a non–profit organization. This is an essential skill to learn in the third sector, as tangible impact reports are the best way to prove an organization’s effectiveness and secure funding to continue the work.
Here is a quick framework for measuring social impact:
- Identify achievable overall goals
- Break each goal down into metrics
- Collect and evaluate data
- Create impact reports to adapt and improve
- Share your impact with stakeholders and the public
Overall goals can differ greatly depending on the project. One example of identifying achievable goals comes from social impact project manager Paulien van der Lugt of Solidar Suisse, an organization that aims to make those in wealthy countries aware of how their decisions impact the global south. “Success would be if we would be able to share some insights. And make the people that mainly work in for-profits more aware about us not-for-profits, and what we aim to achieve, so hopefully there can be cooperation.” (02:42)
How the emba X Social Impact Project builds networks
As Europe’s fifth-best business school, according to the Financial Times, it’s little surprise that St.Gallen provides students past and present with a world-class alumni network with talent across the world and from all sectors.
Each graduate’s network expands beyond their peers through the Business Model Innovation and Company Impact Project. These tasks throw students into challenging environments where they connect with business leaders not readily available outside the course.
The Social Impact Project adds another dimension to students’ networks, connecting them with leaders who prioritize social and environmental impact. The uniquely vast field of profiles is a great advantage for executive graduates, however they choose to pursue their career post-executive MBA. Those with a long-term plan to work in social impact have valuable connections to get started, and those looking to lead traditional businesses can scout their networks for forward-thinking hires in the future.