Research and Thought Leadership
The Social Enterprise Program supports a wide range of research activities by faculty and students on social enterprise areas. These activities focus on how business techniques, know-how, and skills can create social and environmental as well as economic value in the private, nonprofit, and public sectors. The interdisciplinary nature of these topics lends itself to collaboration with other areas of the Business School, Columbia University, and beyond. Faculty and students are able to establish numerous research connections to further their inquiry and analysis of social enterprise topics, and to highlight innovations and key insights from practitioners and organizations.
Business School Faculty have a wide range of interests in social enterprise. The Social Enterprise Program provides funding for high quality academic research by tenured or tenure-track Columbia faculty who have research projects relevant to social enterprise. Research symposiums with practitioners, academics, alumni, and students also contribute to ongoing research projects. Symposiums have focused on topics including: socially responsible investing (SRI) and corporate social responsibility (the role of shareholders, modeling determinants, and payoffs of CSR, and the activities and impact of SRI funds); microfinance and micro-insurance (the impact of private sector insurance in Assam, India and issues affecting the scalability of microfinance and the potential for default); and social entrepreneurship (current trends in the capital markets affecting social entrepreneurs, and issues for social ventures achieving break-even and scale). The Social Enterprise Visitors Program invites leading academics to campus for one week, to interact with faculty, students, practitioners, and alumni and participate in a range of research and classroom-oriented activities.
Examples of faculty-led projects include:
Corporate Governance and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR): This project explores the connection between corporate governance and prevalence and profitability of CSR-initiatives. Led by Geoffrey Heal, Paul Garrett Professor of Public Policy and Business Responsibility, and Ray Fisman, Associate Professor of Finance and Economics, this research provides a framework for analyzing CSR, and the implications of the framework using a ‘visible’ CSR index that captures consumer-oriented CSR. This project explores the prevalence of CSR in consumer-oriented industries, the connection to profitability, and how competition within industries affects the use of CSR as a means of differentiation, especially when few other firms undertake such actions. Corporate governance indicators, such as having large external shareholders on the board, are also examined in connection to the profitability of CSR initiatives.
Microfinance: Suresh Sundaresan, the Chase Manhattan Bank Foundation Professor of Financial Institutions, conducts research in concert with the Centre for Microfinance Research, which is housed within the Institute for Financial Management and Research (based in Chennai, India). Topics include Decreasing Returns to Scale;Tsunami Relief: Delivery mechanisms, efficiency, and needs; and innovative forms of micro-insurance and the impact of private sector insurance in India.
Environmental Protection through Incentives and Commerce (EPIC): EPIC is a joint program of the Center for Environmental Research and Conservation (CERC) and Columbia Business School. EPIC’s research activities focus on incentive-based approaches to conservation including market and commercial enterprise activities, and is funded by the Luce Foundation and the Roskind Family Foundation. EPIC Luce Foundation Research Assistantships are available to Columbia MBA students and provide course credit via an independent study with professor Geoffrey Heal and a stipend. Students research case studies that highlight specific actions by firms using market incentives for conservation in such areas as: alternative energy, resource extraction, ecotourism, watershed services, endangered species, and other related topics of interest to students.
Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED) at Columbia University: Columbia Business School faculty including co-director Elke Weber and Geoffrey Heal work with this interdisciplinary center that studies individual and group decision making under climate uncertainty and decision making in the face of environmental risk. CRED's objectives address the human responses to climate change and climate variability as well as improved communication and increased use of scientific information on climate variability and change.
Research Initiative on Social Entrepreneurship (RISE): RISE was an applied research project on for-profit and nonprofit social ventures and social venture capital. RISE was led by Cathy Clark, former adjunct assistant professor, and jointly supported by the Social Enterprise Program and the Eugene M. Lang Center for Entrepreneurship. The Social Investor Survey was the first national survey of investment vehicles that make early-stage equity investments in scalable for-profit ventures which have positive social or environmental impacts. The RISE Double Bottom Line Investor Directory, was the first national searchable public database of these funds. These resources, reports, and other information are available at www.riseproject.org.
MBA students: Students have the opportunity to contribute to faculty-led research projects and initiatives described above. Alternatively, students interested in research topics in other areas of social enterprise or in writing cases can pursue projects for credit as an independent study (which requires a non-adjunct faculty supervisor), or integrate research into existing elective courses as a final paper. Cases recently developed by students under the supervision of faculty have examined project finance in emerging markets (the Equator Principles), innovations within charter schools, and nonprofit governance and management. Examples of social enterprise papers written by students can be found online. Also, the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Sustainability paper awards encourage students doing projects or internships with companies to examine how the organization addresses CSR, sustainability, corporate citizenship, and/or social impact management issues.