I Worked In Social Impact, And Yes, I’m Getting An MBA

2018-08-02

By Simonil Rustomji, MBA' 19 Ross School of Business, University of Michigan

“If you’re interested in social impact, then why are you doing an MBA?”

I was so surprised by how many people asked me this question, the implication being that somehow business and social impact are two wholly unrelated fields. While doing an MBA you learn core business concepts, improve your leadership skills, and build your network. To me, these are all things that are relevant to any career path.

When I think about what I want to be when I grow up, I definitely want my work to make a positive difference in the world. But I also want to lead teams, develop organizational strategies, manage crises, make sound financial decisions, and essentially apply the rigor that’s required to run efficient and effective organizations. That’s why I’m doing an MBA.

The thing is, I understand why these people are confused by my choice of education. They’ve all been people who’ve never worked in the social impact space, so when they’re envisioning my career path, they see it as something soft and driven by emotions. This stereotype is as common as it is untrue. There’s definitely a strong presence of “passion for change” in social impact organizations, but that alone would take them nowhere.

For instance, I worked at Swadhaar FinServe, an urban microfinance institution in Mumbai that gave low-income consumers access to financial products. The founder was extremely passionate about the upliftment of the people she was serving, and her passion resonated with the employees in the organization. However, in addition to her desire to make a difference, it was her extensive experience in the finance industry and her team of highly experienced business professionals that resulted in a continuously growing organization that currently has 200 branches across India. It was here that I learnt the important role that business acumen plays in making a strong social impact.

This lesson continued to manifest as I went on to my next job in corporate social responsibility (CSR) consulting. Samhita Social Ventures was another impact-focused organization that was set-up as a regular for-profit company that needed to have a business mindset in order to make a difference in the world. In addition, our clients were big corporations who were actually incorporating social impact into their corporate strategy.

Finally, I worked with so many different non-profits during this period, and I quickly realized that the ones who instituted strong processes, allocated resources intentionally, and marketed themselves well, were the ones that were delivering the highest impact on the ground. At this point, all the lines had blurred, and I knew two things for sure: First, the world of social impact is incredibly vast and wanting a career in it can mean absolutely anything, and second, if I want to make a difference at scale, I need to be both passionate and a businesswoman.

I’m happy to report that my first year at Michigan Ross has completely reinforced these beliefs. The rigorous curriculum, vast experiential learning opportunities, and plethora of extracurricular activities have allowed me to stretch my imagination and dream big while simultaneously building the skills to support those dreams.  I’m testing these enhanced skills during my summer internship at Inspiring Capital. I’m working to build out a strategic plan and financial model for a furniture retailer that provides greater market access to furniture makers working with reclaimed materials. Here’s yet another example of the achievement of social impact goals being contingent on a strong business mindset.

Therefore, as I transition to my second year and reflect on everything I’ve learned over the course of my professional career, I am more confident than ever that my decision to go to business school was the right one. I can’t wait to apply everything that I learn during my MBA to making a real difference in the world.