Executive Awareness

An executive master's program at the London School of Economics teaches social responsibility to executives.
Executive Awareness

AS A MORE socially conscious generation enrolls in universities around the world, courses focusing on social impact are proliferating at both the undergraduate and master’s level. But at the London School of Economics (LSE), we have noticed a distinct lack of offerings designed to give business executives the practical skills they need to execute sustainability strategies within their organizations. Since our planet faces imminent social and environmental challenges, we reasoned, why not offer education to executives who are already in the driver’s seat?

In 2018, we launched our executive masters in social business and entrepreneurship (EMSBE) for business leaders who want to give back to the world. This program perfectly embodies the simple motto that can be found on our website: “For the betterment of society.”

The EMSBE is a joint effort between the department of management and LSE’s Marshall Institute, which helps philanthropic organizations and individuals effectively donate time and resources to the public good. As we designed the program, it became apparent that it is nearly impossible to separate social and environmental issues in an educational sense, so the course integrates both.

Course content explores economic and political contexts, social impact and its evaluation, the foundations of social business, resource mobilization, accounting for social return, sustainable practice, altruistic leadership, and entrepreneurship. Participants are taught not only what it means to create social impact, but how to maintain it in a practical sense through innovative revenue streams and technology-based solutions.

Because executive education demands flexibility in scheduling, we designed the program to be compatible with a full-time career. Teaching is conducted over 12 months in intensive one- to two-week classroom modules on the LSE campus in London. This means executives are required to be out of their offices for only six weeks to attend classes. The 2019– 2020 course calendar includes two weeks of classroom teaching in September and one week each in November, February, June, and July. We also use an online platform to distribute assignments, reading materials, and other information; students can use the platform to collaborate outside of the classroom.

In addition, participants work in groups to complete altruistic projects, which are due in August. The projects give students the opportunity to create an entrepreneurial business proposal for social impact. We hold workshops, teaching sessions, and tutorials to help the students develop their ideas before they make presentations to invited experts at the end of the program. In recent projects, students explored impact-led advertising, access for people with disabilities, financial services in Indonesia, and ethical waste management.

Students in LSE's executive master's program

Students in LSE’s executive masters in social business and entrepreneurship come from all over the
world and work in occupations that cover the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.


Course content for the EMSBE is delivered through multiple channels. In addition to traditional lectures and seminars, we incorporate workshops that allow students to role-play negotiations, case studies that require students to adopt contrary perspectives, and debates that are organized by the students. In addition, when tackling sensitive issues such as disability access, we bring in guest speakers who can describe their personal experiences. By having a diverse set of lecturers share their stories with our students, we are able to shape the learning experience around design thinking, in which innovators develop empathy for the people they will be serving.

Over the past two years, we’ve kept class sizes small—below 40 participants— so that executives know they are expected to actively engage in discussion. Students in last year’s cohort had an average age of 33, came from 13 countries, and worked in occupations that covered the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors. In the past, we have had participants from social investment organizations such as Founders Pledge, purpose-driven firms such as B Lab UK, and large corporations such as Novartis, Unilever, and Uber. Some participants are entrepreneurs, others are aspiring entrepreneurs, and others are executives from large companies.

No matter what background the participants have, the program provides a springboard to a variety of social business outcomes. Students gain the skills and knowledge to launch their own ventures, lead their companies’ corporate social responsibility functions, or become leaders at charities, NGOs, and think tanks.

EMSBE’s positive reception tells us that courses like this are needed in the world. It signals that business schools need to be serious about teaching social innovation—and that executives are finding such knowledge to be increasingly essential.

Aunnie Patton Power is an architect of the executive masters in social business and entrepreneurship at the London School of Economics Department of Management in the U.K., where she is a visiting fellow at the Marshall Institute. She is also an associate fellow at the University of Oxford, entrepreneur in residence at Oxford’s Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, an adjunct faculty member at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, and founder of impact financing consultancy Intelligent Impact.

This article originally appeared in BizEd's November/December 2019 issue. Please send questions, comments, or letters to the editor to [email protected].

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