Making Social Innovation Competitive for Business Students

SMIF fellowships support students who look to use their management skills for social good.

October 10, 2017



Yi Zhuang, MBA ’18 (second in from the left) and the Brigaid team. | Winter Caplanson

While summer internships often provide students with opportunities to explore new fields and earn money, such positions at impact-driven organizations rarely offer wages that compete with those in the corporate world.

This presents some students with a tough choice: Take internships at companies that pay well but don’t satisfy their humanitarian ambitions, or scrape by with help from family or friends in order to experiment working in a socially driven field. But thanks to fellowships from the Center for Social Innovation, students at Stanford Graduate School of Business do not have to choose between their goals and their livelihoods.

The program, now called the Social Management Immersion Fellowship, or SMIF, started in 1982 as the Stanford Management Internship Fund, with students raising money to support classmates who pursued internships in the social sector. At first, the program was completely student-led, with some donating a day of their summer internship earnings to their colleagues.

Over the years, the program has been integrated into the school’s offering. Now, through the Center for Social Innovation, students receive summer stipends that give them the financial freedom to explore social-impact careers. There is no cap on the number who can participate.

“We strive to serve the demand and not make it a competitive program,” says Bernadette Clavier, director of the Center for Social Innovation.

Fellowship Benefits Both Students and Purpose-Driven Organizations

Yi Zhuang, MBA ’18, is one of 28 MBA students the Center for Social Innovation supported this past summer — with some working at government agencies, some at nonprofit and for-profit social enterprises, and others receiving stipends to research or launch their own solution to a social problem. Zhuang spent the summer at a school district in Connecticut, working for Brigaid, an impact-focused company that matches professionally trained chefs with cafeterias. The venture was founded by Daniel Giusti, a chef who has run a Michelin-starred restaurant, to serve creative, healthful meals in school lunchrooms while decreasing food waste.


Students take advantage of their time with us to identify a pathway to get them where they want to be.
Bernadette Clavier

As a startup, Brigaid did not offer competitive pay. Zhuang, who says he wouldn’t have been able to take the gig without the Social Management Immersion Fellowship, was grateful to have the opportunity to jump in as part of the team.

“I’m getting the experience of working at an early-stage startup — fundraising, managing cash flow, early hiring,” Zhuang says. “I’ve been shocked by how many topics I’ve reviewed in class that have immediately translated over.”

Zhuang helped Brigaid navigate the accounting implications of working with potential foreign investors, something he’d learned in class with Lisa De Simone, associate professor of accounting and the James and Doris McNamara Faculty Fellow for 2017-18.

Social Impact’s Rising Tide

There is a strong commitment to social responsibility among today’s students. The number of students coming to Stanford GSB who are interested in social and environmental issues has nearly doubled since the early 2000s, says Clavier. A survey of the MBA ’19 class found that 36% of students are interested in developing the management skills to tackle social-impact endeavors, more than in any previous class. In the 2015-16 school year, the most recent year for which data are available, almost every MBA student either took a course or attended an event sponsored by the Center for Social Innovation.

“For many students, it will take a few years after graduation before they can integrate a social mission into their careers,” Clavier says. “Students take advantage of their time with us to verify assumptions and identify a pathway to get them where they want to be.”

The exploration opportunities offered by the Social Management Immersion Fellowship resonate with Jack Marzulli, MBA ’18. Marzulli spent this past summer at the Partnership for Public Service in Washington, D.C., strategizing with staff about the nonprofit’s goals and budget, and working with private-sector sponsors and federal agencies to recruit talented professionals for government positions.

“It’s been great to be able to shop around and try different things out,” Marzulli says. “The Stanford GSB experience is fantastic, because you’re encouraged to try so many different things inside and outside of the classroom.”

— Jenny Luna

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