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February 18, 2009

Social Enterprise Celebrates 25 Years

Catherine New
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This post is part of a series celebrating Professor Ray Horton’s final academic year as director of the Social Enterprise Program and the newly expanded nonprofit and social enterprise course offerings in Executive Education.

The ashes of crisis create fertile ground for change. Indeed, the very origins of Columbia Business School’s Social Enterprise Program can be traced to New York City’s fiscal crisis of the late 1970s. Today, a new financial crisis serves as a pivotal backdrop for founder Professor Ray Horton’s final year as the program’s director.

Horton recently reflected on the elements that have shaped the thinking of students in the program over the last 25 years, and he pointed to the considerable influence of both corporate scandals and the environment.

“The corporate scandals of the 1980s and early 2000s have had an impact on MBA students. And there was also the realization that we’ll be choking on our own air pollution 50 years from now if we don’t do something about it,” he said.

“But the great crash of 2008 has turned a huge number of students off about greed. I think people now understand the antisocial consequences of the finance game that major institutions were playing.”

That shift in student thinking underscores Horton’s own view that the traditional economic division between profit incentive and social good is fading away.

“The private sector and the nonprofit world are more alike than they are different,” Horton said.

However, as the students’ thinking — and the discipline itself — continue to evolve, there is one element that is a constant for the program: Horton’s own sense of service.

“I’ve always felt you have an obligation to pay back to society,” Horton said. “Part of my role at the School is convincing people that there is something beyond trying to make as much money as possible.”

Photo courtesy of the Social Enterprise Program