Posted by Mosum Shah on November 3, 2015
Full-Time MBA Booth student Natalie Wilson began her professional life in actuarial consulting and corporate finance and returned to Booth when she decided to pursue a career aligned more closely with her social impact goals. This summer, Wilson interned for the programs team at A Better Chicago, a venture philanthropy fund focused on education.
Wilson recently received a new scholarship recognizing Booth students with career ambitions in social entrepreneurship and impact investing. Awarded by the school’s Social Enterprise Initiative (SEI), the Lauren and Keith Breslauer, ’88, Social Impact Scholarship is supported by Keith Breslauer, ’88, the founder of Patron Capital and an SEI advisory board member.
The following is an excerpt from a conversation between Wilson and SEI’s Mosum Shah about the social impact community at Booth and the realities of pursuing a career in the social impact sector.
Social Enterprise Initiative: You started out in the private sector. What made you want to start working in social impact?
Natalie Wilson: I was working day in and day out on something I was good at but wasn’t passionate about. I enjoyed volunteering with and fundraising for organizations focused on the issues I care about, like education, financial literacy, women’s issues, homelessness, and urban poverty. I felt like it was important to find a role where I could use my skills to make a difference, thereby giving me something to look forward to and be proud of every day. For instance, at an organization like A Better Chicago, where I interned this summer, I used my financial and analytical skills to improve educational outcomes for low-income Chicagoans.
SEI: I know a little bit about why you decided to transition to business school, but why Booth?
NW: Outside of the growing social impact community and the great work being done by SEI, there were two major reasons I chose Booth. The first was the flexible curriculum. Having been a business undergrad, I appreciated being able to individually select classes that aligned with my interests and development areas. Secondly, and this ties into the first reason, Booth was the only school that had a mother’s group. Other schools had groups for partners of students, but none dedicated to mothers. As a single mom looking at business schools, reading an article in the Economist about the Mothers at Booth group meant a lot to me. It let me know that I would not be doing this alone and that there was a support system and resources available to me.
SEI: The old concept of business school is that it’s the place to go if you want to do something like finance or management consulting. Do opportunities like the Breslauer Social Impact Scholarship help shift people’s perceptions about the MBA experience?
NW: Well, I can say that for me personally, the scholarship came at the perfect time. At the end of the summer, I was questioning whether I should be pursuing a career in social impact, based solely on my fears about debt repayment and financial obligations. I had friends who were receiving offers from banks and consulting firms, and I wondered if I was making the right decision. The scholarship alleviates some of those concerns and helps me concentrate more on what my priorities are and the reasons why I’m pursuing a social impact career. It also signals to me that the school supports an array of interests and that I made the right decision coming here.
SEI: But you can’t just count on the “feel-good” aspect of working in social impact, right? How do you evaluate a potential employer?
NW: It’s just like any other recruitment process—you have to feel out the culture of the organization. For example, if I see a nonprofit where the leaders aren’t passionate and knowledgeable about the communities they serve and the work they do, I know it probably won’t be a good fit for me. I also always look at the senior management of organizations and see if anyone has MBAs.
SEI: That’s interesting. What does the presence of MBAs in a nonprofit organization signal to you?
NW: It tells me that I’m going into an organization that values my degree and my skills. There’s this misconception that when you’re working at a nonprofit, there’s going to be a lot of touchy-feely people who don’t know about business. I quickly realized that this isn’t true. A Better Chicago is an amazing example of business professionals who care about Chicago and want to use their skills to develop a data-driven approach to philanthropy. Their CEO and other senior staff came from Bain. So, the organization is run with the leadership and professional development emphasis of a consulting firm, coupled with the fun, entrepreneurial culture of a startup and the mission-driven approach of a social enterprise.
SEI: You’ve talked a little bit about what to look for in terms of leadership and compensation at an organization. What else is different about working in the social impact sector?
NW: Unlike consulting and banking where you often know how much you’ll be making and how many hours you’ll be putting in, there is more uncertainty in social impact. Social impact itself is such a broadly defined concept that there is a wide range of salaries and roles, and there isn’t one, clear path.
SEI: As a mom, isn’t that scary?
NW: That’s where resources like the Breslauer scholarship and Community Catalyst Fund are so helpful. I came back to school for a reason, and I am confident that Booth is helping prepare me to fulfill those goals.
SEI: Now that you are well into your second year, what advice can you give first-years interested in pursuing career in social impact?
NW: Participate in SEI events and BoothEd, Net Impact, and other student group events—figure out what specific issues and functions you’re interested in. People will go into this sector and say they’re really passionate about XYZ, but they haven’t volunteered or gotten involved enough to fully understand what communities they want to serve and what skills they bring to the table. For instance, A Better Chicago’s portfolio of nonprofits receive management support and unrestricted funds with the goal of scaling high-quality programs and improving educational outcomes. Many of their staff have volunteered at or worked in schools and continue to do so. They are heavily involved in the community outside of their day jobs, sit on committees and coalitions focused on improving college access and persistence, serve as thought leaders, and have a clear understanding of and passion for the importance of their work. Booth gives you a lot of opportunities, but you have to do the same work as a student to really hone in on what social impact career makes sense for you.—Edited by Mosum Shah