After graduating with a bachelor's degree in finance a few years ago, Marissa Mahoney started on a career path that many would consider financially rewarding. She worked in investment banking and real estate private equity, but didn't find the work fulfilling.
"I wanted to use my business skills in a way that made more social impact more directly," she says. She learned how to do just that as a social enterprise fellow at the Goizueta Business School at Emory University, from which she graduated in May.
Social enterprise is a newer area of business used to address shortcomings in society, such as environmental challenges or education disparities, but often pays less than traditional fields. The lower salary potential could deter students going to business school to make more money.
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Mahoney is happy with her new career. Her new job, at an institute for professionals who want to use business for social change, will let her live comfortably while doing something she enjoys. Unlike most MBA grads, her new degree won't bump up her salary, but it won't cause it to drop either.
"It's actually on par with what I used to make," she says. And there's a bonus: "It does provide opportunities for growth."
Mahoney's story isn't rare. There are a variety of jobs and career tracks available for business school students interested in social enterprise that won't leave them struggling to make ends meet.
At Columbia University, 2012 business school graduates who chose to work in government, education or the nonprofit fields had a median salary of $95,000, says Bruce Lloyd, director of employer relations in the Career Management Center at the business school.
That salary is low compared with the median salaries of other MBA concentrations, he says, but within the normal range for business school graduates.
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"A senior consultant at a consulting firm that focuses on the not-for-profit sector will make more than that median salary. A director of finance at a charter school, or at an educational institution that focuses on bettering education in America, that person will make in six figures," he says.
Not surprisingly, there are a number of jobs that will pay lower than that median.
"For example, a marketing-business development position at a New York City organization that focuses on health care will make below that median salary," says Lloyd. "Or a program officer who works directly at a not-for-profit will make below that."
Ted Zoller, director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies and an associate professor at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill, encourages students to remember that they don't have to work at a social enterprise company to bring change. He knows people at more traditional consulting firms, such as BCG, making great salaries while working on social enterprise and sustainability.
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If students want to be entrepreneurs in this field, Zoller suggests they examine what other successful social entrepreneurs have done.
"Examine what models work, what models don't. The models that blend commercial and social usually are the ones that are most viable," he says.
TOMS Shoes, the footwear company that aims to match every pair of shoes sold with a new pair to a child in need, is one of his examples. Students can also look for opportunities in crowd funding through organizations like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, he says.
Making money is not the biggest challenge for students interested in social enterprise, says Peter Roberts, academic director of social enterprise at Emory's Goizueta Business School. It's the job search.
"We don't have the established recruiters come to campus," he says, noting that social enterprise is an emerging and fluid sector. "It needs to be a little bit more proactive. And you need help finding out where the opportunities are."
He suggests students check the websites for B Corps, run by nonprofit B Lab, which certifies corporations for meeting social and environmental performance guidelines, and the former Bridgestar, now Bridgespan Group, which advertises jobs in the nonprofit sector.