Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Harvard Business School

I spent today at a summit on social entrepreneurship convened by Harvard Business School.   They invited a couple hundred non-profit directors to hear lectures and panels devoted to topics like "Appealing to the Next Generation of Philanthropists" and "Global Trends in Operating Entrepreneurial Social Ventures."  Given who was convening the event, it will come as no surprise that much of the content had a business bent: how do you adapt corporate branding strategies to the non-profit sector, how do non-profits recruit executives from the business world, how are non-profits using for-profit subsidiaries to raise money and extend their impact, etc.  I can't in all candor say that I learned anything that caused me to question what we are doing at the Center or that will change the way I approach our work, but it is always helpful to have the opportunity to step outside one's narrow world to think about the big picture.  My favorite session was one on strategic thinking that featured an apparently famous Harvard Business School professor that I have (perhaps shamefully) never heard of.  I was delighted to hear that he shares some of my skepticism about organizational mission statements, which tend to be so broad as to be meaningless.  That said, he encouraged the non-profit directors in the audience to be more rigorous in their strategic thinking and their articulation of the unique contribution to the world that their organizations make.   I found this exhortation an inspiring end to the day.