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Social Impact Career fair
The Social Impact Club Career and Board Development Fair gives students a chance to network with representatives from nonprofit organizations.   Photo © Nathan Mandell

'Best citizens' unite for change

Society demands it, and thanks to a faculty-student partnership, the SEEK curriculum supplies it: training for socially responsible global leaders

By Romi Herron

When executives reveal the issues that keep them awake at night, social and political acceptance of corporate activities is a top concern, according to IBM Distinguished Professor of Regulation and Competitive Practice Daniel Diermeier, who is also director of the Kellogg School's Center for Business, Government and Society.

And when Kellogg students express their main career objectives, making a meaningful, positive impact on society is consistently paramount.

Combining those forces, the Kellogg School launched its dynamic Social Enterprise at Kellogg (SEEK) major in 2005 as a response to the market's increased demand for socially responsible leaders. With student and faculty collaboration, SEEK approaches business management with a progressive, values-focused framework.

  Yvon Chouinard and student, Hadar Kramer
  Yvon Chouinard, left, founder and chairman of outdoor equipment and apparel company Patagonia Inc., talks with Hadar Kramer '06 during a November visit to Kellogg. Chouinard discussed Patagonia's commitment to environmentally conscious practices.  Photo © Nathan Mandell
A new era of thinking

"The traditional way the business community has thought about business management is inappropriate now. It was divided by tax status: nonprofit, for-profit and government," explains Diermeier, SEEK's director. "Our research reveals a blending in these fields. Global corporations now have to solve problems traditionally held by nonprofits, while nonprofits are more and more adopting management techniques from corporations. Leaders are not in one 'world' exclusively."

A global shift by stakeholders now holds leaders accountable for social responsibility, and that changes the approach to business management, Diermeier says. A corporation now must engage in citizenship, presenting leaders with new challenges, such as providing healthcare for foreign workers of their supply chain.

Wal-Mart is an example of a corporation affected by this shift, notes Diermeier. The corporation's current repositioning is aimed to overcome its image as an enterprise that underpays its labor force and falls short on workplace protections and labor laws.

"With SEEK's core classes, students are taught, through simulated crisis situations, how value-orientation is critical for business success," Diermeier says.

Professor of Public Management and Director of the Center for Nonprofit Management Donald Haider says SEEK's blending of disciplines proves ideal for the changing demands of business and nonprofit management.

"Being a 'best citizen' and having a good brand is connected with how leaders interact with community, media, interest groups and stakeholders," Haider says. "Cutting across disciplines, SEEK examines how other countries may approach problems in those non-marketing environments," he says. "We teach students to consider consequences and implications of different approaches, including the financial and cultural, among others."

Tim Hennessey
Flashback 1987 "As class president, I found that all of the school's administration, particularly support staff, were always ready, willing and able to help us in whatever we needed. We met with Dean Jacobs every week, and even had Professor Phil Kotler join us in a brainstorming session on improving the international business curriculum."  Tim Hennessey '87, Graduate Management Association president
A student-influenced program

SEEK's student-influenced courses are "realistic" and "dynamic," Haider says. About three years ago, students grew increasingly interested in the intersection of for-profit, nonprofit and public ventures. Leveraging this interest, along with insights from Kellogg alumni and the Social Impact Club — an award-winning group of some 500 Kellogg students who strive to direct the power of business to positively influence social and environmental concerns — Kellogg created SEEK.

Andrea Box '06, Social Impact's academic chair, has been involved throughout this development. "The Social Impact president, strategy chair, a multidisciplinary group of faculty and administrators and I convened to discuss the program," she says. "After multiple discussions, SEEK was born, with the goal of creating an academically rigorous, globally relevant, holistic curriculum that provides students with strong skills to manage in whatever sector(s) they pursue."

Liz Howard, associate director of SEEK and the Center for Nonprofit Management, says student input sets the curriculum apart from social enterprise programs offered at other institutions. "SEEK students are involved not only in academic activities but also in co- and extra-curricular activities that enhance their learning and understanding of different sectors and the role leaders play in each," she says.

Part of their influence is garnered through a "lean decision-making structure," Diermeier says, when faculty and students gather informally to exchange perspectives on the program. Key decisions are made in collaboration with students.

"The teaching is largely driven by research faculty because students expressed what they really want are concepts," Diermeier adds. "We'll continue to develop the curriculum through a launch on public policy aspects and involve as many departments as possible. For instance, this year we offer a class on environmental finance that discusses market solutions, such as carbon trading schemes, to environmental problems."

Early progress has been "tremendous," according to Diermeier, who notes that second-year SEEK students will start class one week early this fall to complete a five-day mandatory course, Values in Crisis, enabling them to hit the ground running in the new academic year.

With that development, and a significant financial contribution from Mr. and Mrs. Alan Leventhal, SEEK is on track to emerge as a global resource center. One aspect of The Beacon Capital Partners Fellowship and Nonprofit Executive in Residence programs, funded by the Leventhal gift, gives graduating students a nontraditional, one-year work experience. With this opportunity, and eventually others like it, SEEKers will co-create knowledge with faculty and leaders, helping them achieve economic and social good through innovation.

Diermeier says SEEK's applications will prove invaluable for diverse constituents. "Someone who goes to work for Goldman Sachs will need to understand Wal-Mart's reputational challenges and their business impact.  Leaders have to manage reputation and engage stakeholders who want to have an impact on how a corporation affects society. Our students recognize they need to be ready for this."

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University