By Cassarie Soungpanya, UGBA 16
While creating my Spring 2015 schedule, I decided to enroll in the “Leading and Managing Nonprofits and Social Ventures” course, which is taught by Ben Mangan, CSSL’s Executive Director. I signed up for the class expecting to gain a better understanding of which characteristics nonprofits and social ventures embody, as well as how these organizations operate. I was glad to find that this course tackles its key course takeaways through hands-on learning rather than traditional lectures.
The class is structured around two main projects – a midterm paper and a final group project. Lectures are highly interactive, as students actively engage in discussion about assigned readings and other relevant topics that may come up during class. One of the most important points that Ben has emphasized throughout the class is that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast every morning.” Prior to taking this class, I thought that a well-planned strategy was the core of an organization, but now know how important a company’s culture is to its success.
My favorite in-class exercise is when the class broke up into small groups and used IDEO’s design thinking methodology to come up with a solution to a real-world project that two UC Berkeley professors are spearheading. Rather than simply presenting the ideas that were brainstormed, each group created a skit and acted out their solution. We ended up recording all of the skits in class that day, and Ben forwarded them to the professors who are working on the project. The professors ended up writing back to Ben, and expressed that they would accept any students from the class who are interested in helping with the actual project. More “mini” in-class presentations would be an excellent addition to the class next year to better prepare students for the final group project presentation.
In addition to discussions and in-class group exercises, Ben has put together a line-up of incredible guest speakers who provide real-world insight, which often connects to class material. Guest speakers that have already visited throughout this semester are involved in a variety of industries, but share an interest in promoting positive social impact. It was interesting to find that some of the speakers work in the private sector, but are still dedicated to positively contributing to society.
One of our most notable guest speakers is Sterling Speirn, CEO of the Stupski Family Foundation and former CEO of the Kellogg Foundation. Mr. Speirn focused on foundations and how they give opportunities to spur innovation. He answered students’ questions about his experiences in leading foundations, illustrating that fostering positive impact “isn’t just about giving money.” It has been such a privilege to meet such accomplished individuals and discover the different ways one can make a social impact, whether it be serving on nonprofit boards or donating to a nonprofit.
All in all, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of this class, as it has provided me with more than textbook definitions and has enabled me to further explore my interest in the social sector. I was surprised to discover that all of the concepts that we have learned in class are applicable to all sectors of business. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing my peers’ different viewpoints and being able to contribute my own thoughts as well. At times, some of the class material and concepts can be confusing, but this should be expected, since this course tackles such large and broad issues. Being a part of this class has been such a rewarding experience, and I am excited for what’s to come in the last few weeks of the semester. I look forward to utilizing all of the skills that we have developed throughout the course in order to complete the final group project.
“Leading Nonprofits and Social Ventures” provides a different experience within Haas and opens up new perspectives. I would highly recommend this course to all students, even those who aren’t specifically interested in nonprofits or social ventures. Despite his busy schedule, Ben never fails to make himself accessible to answer students’ questions and welcomes feedback about the course. In fact, when I’m working at the Center for Social Sector Leadership, Ben often pops into the office to ask for my thoughts on the week’s class sessions and whether I have any suggestions for next week’s meetings. You should take this class if you are looking for a flexible course that can adapt to students’ wants and needs and stimulates the highest level of student collaboration.