The obligation to do good

Gayle Northrop wears many hats. She is a lecturer on social entrepreneurship and social impact at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management as well as the president of Northrop Nonprofit Consulting, a firm specializing in strategic planning, organizational development and leadership development for nonprofits, social enterprises and non-governmental organizations worldwide. She is also a coach for the Amaphiko program.

We spoke to her about how she views and teaches social entrepreneurship, the way her curriculum has evolved and how it fits into the impact ecosystem at UCLA.

Gayle Northrop, far left.

How did you begin teaching social impact?

I’ve been working in the impact space for over twenty years, since graduating from UCLA Anderson with an MBA. I didn’t set out to teach, but was pulled in as a guest lecturer about 10 years ago which soon evolved into advising MBA teams on social impact consulting projects, particularly for international nonprofit projects since I was working a lot in Africa then. In 2013, I was asked to teach a course on social entrepreneurship.

I’m curious if and how the class has changed since you started teaching it.

Over the years, as enrollment has grown, I’ve gotten more diversity in the types of students taking my class. More than ever before, I’m teaching a broader spectrum of students: those who know a lot about the field of social impact and those who know very little about it. Students might be focusing on finance or consulting, and they hear about the class and wonder if there’s a place for them for making a positive impact with their MBA. The vastly different perspectives makes it tricky but also very exciting.

Has your curriculum evolved accordingly?

I’ve had to adapt it to make it relevant for the students who aren’t going to go into “traditional” impact careers but still want to do something good for society. This means I spend more time talking about things like “shared value": how can corporations embed positive social value in their supply chain or build new markets by serving underserved populations? How do you evaluate nonprofits so you can make sound choices about which ones to support? I get the students thinking about sitting on a nonprofit board so they can use their MBA skills for social good, regardless of their career path.

How do you define social impact?

The perception of social entrepreneurship is often that we’re talking only about earned revenue, which is one formal definition. A key point I emphasize about social entrepreneurship is that it’s about creating a business - a business with a positive social impact. It’s a misconception that non-profit is for good, for-profit is for making money. I’m interested in introducing business models that are sector-agnostic models of impact. We need to figure out how we can not only collaborate across sectors but also engage all sectors in impact.

What are some interesting social impact models you use as case studies in class?

  1. The giving model of Warby Parker. A lot of people don’t even know that Warby Parker has a big social impact component in partnership with VisionSpring. So in class we debate ways to incorporate positive social element in any business.

  2. I work closely with Homeboy Industries who work with formerly gang involved and previously incarcerated men and women. They have seven different social enterprises with social service, training and job development programs supported by business revenue and philanthropic dollars - I use them as an example of blended income strategies.

  3. mothers2mothers created an innovative model of health delivery - the mentor mother model - that proved so successful the South African government adopted it as their own. This is an example of systems entrepreneurship.

I love the idea of a blended business model. However, does that increase the chance a company might exploit it for say, a tax write off?

A 501c3 has checks and balances in place to make sure the public good is protected. It’s certainly possible to exploit this sort of hybrid model- it’s easier if it’s blurry- but you still have the checks and balances of the 501c3 structure.

Give us a little insight into the field of social impact in academia.

There’s a concept called “hero-preneurship” that’s gaining traction and driving important conversations among impact educators: MBA students and graduates have often been encouraged, even incentivized through competitions and accelerators, to create something to change the world but too often they haven’t lived or experienced the problem. They come with a solution, rather than a mindset trained to understand and analyze the problem. I’m interested in figuring out how we can inspire MBA students to make a difference in the world but do it in a way that is rooted in the context and community living the problem? That’s usually where the most effective, sustainable solutions lie.

You mentioned a “social impact gap canvas.” What is that?

I’m going to be shifting how I approach the project component of my class so students aren’t trying to solve a problem but instead will use a methodology to study, understand and analyze the people who are already addressing a social problem, and perhaps find gaps that could be filled in innovative ways.

How does your course fit into the rest of UCLA?

One of the key goals [of Anderson] is increasing our social impact. There’s been a lot of student-driven interest in social impact; Net Impact, the student club for social impact, is the second largest club on campus.

We’ve created a specialization in social impact and identified the core courses and electives students can take to earn that. Last year was the first time I taught my social entrepreneurship course to undergraduate students- the course filled up within the first few minutes. It’s been really exciting to see student interest continue to grow.

For students thinking about taking your class, what is one thing they should do beforehand?

Be prepared to think differently about what the opportunity of business is and the potential for business to do social good.

What’s one thing you want them to make sure they remember after they take your class?

Realize they have the opportunity and the obligation to use their MBA for social good. There’s a variety of ways to do it and be inspired and excited to do that.

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