When searching for a graduate business school, John Kluge, MBA’17, wanted a place that explores how to create economic and social value simultaneously. After working in industry, the nonprofit sector, and government, he came to believe these goals needed to be wed. So Kluge sought a program that addresses change-making inside and outside of organizations.
“Today’s problems are so complex that we need business to take a leading role in helping to solve them,” Kluge says. “How do you do that? To me, it’s entrepreneurship. I wanted a place that lived and breathed value creation for itself and for others, and taught people to look for opportunities and act on them.”
He believed Babson was that place, a view that was solidified when he read Creating Social Value, co-authored by Cheryl Kiser, executive director of The Lewis Institute. “The book talks about how change-makers see the world and the skills and qualities they need to develop to be effective,” Kluge says.
But after arriving on campus as part of the Two-Year MBA program, Kluge was disappointed. Courses and programs he had hoped for were hard to find. Apparently, others in his class felt the same, because Kluge soon received an email from classmate Tyne Thiele, MBA’17, seeking students interested in social innovation. A group of about 12 decided to meet off campus. “There was no plan, no expectations,” Kluge says. “We knew social innovation was something we cared about, but we didn’t even understand what the resources were at Babson. So part of our conversations were helping each other figure that out.”
Throughout their first year, the group met almost weekly and half-jokingly called themselves the Usurpers. They shared knowledge, pitched each other ideas, and brought in guest speakers. “There also was a lot of discussion about what we as a group could do,” Kluge says. “We wanted to make a measurable impact on the community in which we were living, which was Babson for two years. So we decided we can support Babson by improving the experience of students who are interested in social innovation.”
The group reached out to Kiser, who responded by instituting MBA Impact Hours, bringing in speakers for casual talks about various relevant topics, including the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Then Kluge and classmate Ross Chesnick, MBA’17, did a MCFE for The Lewis Institute that examined Babson’s ecosystem for supporting social innovation, detailing how it might improve. “It was fantastic,” says Kiser, “really one of the best MCFEs I’ve ever had anybody do for us.”
After hearing the results, Kiser offered her course “Leading for Social Value,” based on her book, in the spring of 2017. By this time, the Usurpers had more than 120 followers on social media, and 30 to 40 students were coming to the weekly meetings. Many in the group also were in Kiser’s class. Listening to the students’ desires, Kiser worked with the Graduate School to create the Business & Social Innovation Intensity Track, which focuses on developing social innovators. A few months later at Commencement, 13 graduate students were awarded the designation.
One of the inaugural recipients, Kluge believes the intensity track will help students who are interested in social innovation understand what Babson has to offer, but he hopes its impact will go further. “Our group wants to get other people interested—faculty, and businesses that want to find ways of doing this inside their own companies,” he says. “The intensity track, in the true entrepreneurial spirit, is a beginning.”
Kluge gives Babson credit for listening and, more important, acting. “There’s an openness and willingness to change,” he says, “which I think is something unique about Babson.”—Donna Coco
Learn more about the The Lewis Institute’s Business & Social Innovation Intensity Track.