Janny Frimpong was working in Sony Pictures Entertainment’s distribution department, where she analyzed customer data to predict purchasing behaviors, when she decided to use her skills for a different purpose.
“I have a passion for women’s health, [women’s] rights and politics,” Frimpong says.
She’s one of many MBA students in the D.C. area, which is buzzing with nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations, who’d like to do well in their careers while also doing good.
Frimpong, 30, chose to study social marketing, a field whose practitioners use traditional marketing techniques to bring about social change.
Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business proved the ideal match for her goals, with classes in social marketing, social entrepreneurship and nonprofit management, among others.
The business schools of American University, George Washington University and the University of Maryland, College Park also offer traditional MBA programs that include classes for students who would like to travel a less-than-traditional career path.
Frimpong earned her MBA in 2010. With the help of professor William Novelli, a social-marketing pioneer, she landed a job as an account supervisor for Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide.
There, Frimpong joined a team overseeing the Heart Truth campaign, a Department of Health and Human Services program endeavoring to prevent heart disease in women.
“I would never have made the connection [to Ogilvy] myself without a professor who was steeped in that area,” Frimpong says. She recently accepted a new position, developing and implementing social media campaigns at Planned Parenthood.
Bridging the worlds of giving and gaining is not such a stretch for business schools. “Good management, leadership and business principles apply to for-profit
and nonprofit companies,” says Lawrence Ward, associate dean of American University’s Kogod School of Business.
Business-school graduates can offer much to the nonprofit world, says Chicago-based consultant Heidi Massey. If, that is, they “have an understanding of the sector” and extend their focus beyond the bottom line.
At Georgetown, Frimpong learned the importance of doing research before committing funds to a project. Since nonprofits have tight budgets, using each dollar effectively is more important than it would be in the for-profit sector.
Megan Burkhart, 31, felt she needed better business skills when she worked for the Peace Corps in Africa and later for the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Now in her second and final year of Maryland’s MBA program, Burkhart has been developing her business skills while helping others. In her social venture consulting class, for example, Burkhart helped the environmental NGO World Resources International look into water purification technologies for India.
“More students are coming for a traditional degree but using it in nontraditional ways,” says Melissa Carrier, assistant dean of global programs and social value creation at Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.
Alex Maciulaitis, 33, also at Maryland, had the same epiphany about his career while working for the Japanese Consulate in Washington, D.C. “More and more nonprofits were moving to processes like [those used by] traditional businesses,” he says, “but I realized that I didn’t know enough about business.”
Getting an MBA was the logical next step to gain those skills. Like Frimpong, Maciulaitis is considering a career in social marketing. In addition, he says he’s really interested in learning about “how a company uses corporate social responsibility to drive value back to consumers.”
Maciulaitis is graduating in May and hasn’t yet determined whether he will work for a nonprofit or work on social issues from within a for-profit corporation. In the meantime, he’ll continue to take courses to hone his business skills.
In one class, he and three classmates worked with the City of Baltimore to write a report on entrepreneurial opportunities for recent parolees.
If students at Maryland don’t have time to take such courses as electives, they can volunteer at the Center for Social Value Creation, which works on projects in fields such as sustainability, microfinance and social entrepreneurship.
Most MBA programs in the D.C. area encourage students to volunteer their time by using their business skills to help nonprofits and NGOs.
“It’s a great teaching opportunity for MBA students to do pro bono work while they’re getting their degree,” Massey says.
GWU students are partnering with the D.C. government to work on an urban and economic development plan.
At American University, MBA students are helping “clients” across the globe. In its Peace Through Commerce elective course, students team up with entrepreneurs in conflict regions to help develop business plans and secure funding for projects, such as a medical laboratory in Iraq.
Sixteen American University students even traveled to Tunisia this summer to meet with locals in underdeveloped areas and help identify new business opportunities.
At many schools, the idea of using an MBA to do good work seems natural.
GWU School of Business dean Doug Guthrie says their program continues the mission set forth by the university’s namesake: “George Washington wanted to educate leaders who would make the world a better place.”