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“Social Enterprise” comprises the issues and activities that lie at the intersection of business practice and the interests of society. This incorporates questions of how businesses impact society through their strategies and operations — by reducing their environmental impact, developing products to serve disadvantaged communities, supporting charities, and a myriad of other activities. It also includes the application of business and management principles to help a wider range of organizations — governments, nonprofits, and social ventures — to perform their best.
Why social enterprise now? Management skills are increasingly recognized as prerequisite to solving many of society's social and environmental challenges. Companies increasingly believe that in order to be successful over the long-term, they need to be more thoughtful and strategic in considering their social impact. And with a scarcer supply of jobs in traditional areas, many more students are broadening their employment searches and rethinking their priorities on what’s worth devoting their lives to doing.
Tamer Center for Social Enterprise at Columbia Business School
The mission of the Tamer Center for Social Enterprise is to educate leaders to use business tools, entrepreneurial skills, and management skills to address social and environmental challenges. We achieve this by supporting the creation and communication of new ideas, and by providing curricular and extra-curricular opportunities for Columbia University students in four key areas of focus.
These four areas—sustainability and the environment; international development; public and nonprofit management; and social entrepreneurship—reflect our particular strengths and student interests. Overall, our goal is to be the pre-eminent generator of leadership—both people and ideas—in the world of social enterprise.
A decade ago, social enterprise was a small collection of like-minded students who felt largely limited to a limited range of courses and extra-curricular activities to satisfy their interests. Today, we represent a dominant force within the School. There are over a dozen course offerings focused directly on social enterprise, and a wide range of extracurricular opportunities that satisfy the many interests that students wish to pursue. Over 600 students are involved in our clubs, and a rapidly growing number of prospective students identify social enterprise as one of their primary interests.
We have traditionally been student-oriented in our efforts, and our program remains first and foremost focused on developing the next generation of social enterprise leaders. We now have a full menu of opportunities that prospective students have come to expect from a flagship program in social enterprise: our summer internship and loan assistance programs support students working with organizations in the United States and abroad; the Tamer Fund for Social Ventures provides seed grants for Columbia-affiliated social venture start-ups; a student-run investment fund, Microlumbia, sends students around the world to evaluate and invest in microfinance institutions; consulting programs send students from Harlem to Haiti to provide guidance and advice to nonprofits and budding social entrepreneurs; and our nonprofit board leadership program connects students to board mentors at nonprofits from Literacy Inc. to Carnegie Hall.
From Research to Practice in Social Enterprise
In social enterprise, we have taken to heart the School’s vision of connecting research and faculty to real-world practice. It is this integration of students and faculty members that sets our program apart from many of its peers. The program itself is overseen by professors actively engaged in research and in real-world practice. Topics range from corruption in Indonesia to assessing teacher quality in New York Schools to financing clean energy projects in China. Our work is often in collaboration with companies and nonprofits, seeking answers that help us to understand the world while helping specific organizations function more effectively. This engagement is all the more exciting given that New York City is Columbia’s back yard, with a dynamic and vibrant social enterprise sector and a regular stop for leaders and industry practitioners from around the world.
In addition to publishing our work in peer-reviewed academic journals, we take pride in communicating with a broader audience through case-writing, publishing in the popular press, and bringing research — our own and that of others in our fields — to the student experience.
This connection to student life is crucial. Student efforts are often supported by faculty mentoring and guidance while in school, and faculty often serve as advisory board members to social ventures — of both the for-profit and nonprofit variety — that coalesce after graduation. But more than anything, it is the steady informal interaction among faculty, students, and the experts in practice in New York City and beyond that we also draw on, that makes Columbia such a special place to be involved in social enterprise for all of us.