Whether you’re applying for an MBA, a PhD in Public Policy (or many other doctoral fields), or a Masters in Social Work, you’re likely to talk about social enterprise, or community service, goals. For some, this will be your primary objective—those of you seeking careers in non-profit, for example. For others, community service may be secondary, but you’re likely to mention service-related goals in the context of how you’ll contribute to the program or in outlining your post-degree volunteer/philanthropic efforts.
Regardless, you should follow a simple piece of advice: use rich specifics to bring your social enterprise goals to life. I can’t tell you how many essay drafts I’ve seen with something like “. . . and I look forward to giving back by helping those in need in my community and addressing major global issues like poverty and global warming.” You may as well write, “I’m a good person, I swear.” It would have about as much impact.
Instead, use powerful details to paint the picture of your goals. For those of you whose careers will focus on social enterprise, this is especially important. If your future path is related to microfinance (i.e., managing micro-loans to entrepreneurs in emerging economies), on top of the places where you would seek employment talk about the specific countries on which you would like to focus (e.g., India, Mexico, African regions), the target segments and types of entrepreneurship you would seek to fund (e.g., women selling handiwork), and the partnerships you would try to forge (e.g., with banks and NGOs).
Okay, you may say, but my social enterprise goals are harder to define because they’re not in a well-established field like microfinance. For example, you may be an IT engineer who wants to use technology to improve the lives of those in underserved rural regions of a country like India. In that case, do your best to specify how you’d like to do this, including by using statistics on relevant trends. You may point out that though Internet use is still minimal in rural India, the mobile phone subscriber base has grown by 70% a year (made-up stat; you should use a real one), representing a great opportunity to . . . whatever it is you’d like to do.
Hold on, you may say, what if I don’t know exactly what I want to do within social enterprise? Well, you should probably have some idea, but it needn’t be highly specific. This is where you can rely on existing examples to lend richness to your essays. Remember, the majority of successful people didn’t reinvent the proverbial wheel; they just figured out new and better uses for it. So find examples of people doing the kinds of things you’d like to do, and (briefly) tell their story to support yours. For example, the December 2008 issue of Esquire Magazine profiles Tapan Parikh, a UC Berkeley computer scientist who has designed cell phone applications to help manage microfinance-related paperwork in India using a simple barcode-reader and voice prompts for illiterate users. His technology has improved record-keeping, transparency, and loan success rates. That example covers both scenarios I’ve mentioned: microfinance and using IT for social enterprise in rural areas. Another example is the One Acre Fund, non-profit organization started by Kellogg MBA alumnus Andrew Youn that is attacking Africa’s hunger problem by providing individuals seed and fertilizer on credit, weekly on-site agricultural training, and improved market access, with all operations and results assessed with quantitative measures.
It’s ideal to paint your own vision of your career path, but it’s wise to use such examples when you’re venturing into new territory or truly don’t know exactly what you want to do. Many of my clients have used this approach successfully at top programs.
And remember: those of you for whom social enterprise will be a sideline or something you do primarily while in the program (e.g., all top business schools have multiple community service clubs and activities), you’re still not exempt from using specifics. Point out how you’ll build on past community service activities with specific efforts at the school and beyond: “At Kellogg I’ll build on my hospital volunteer work with Lion’s Club by driving healthcare initiatives for the Social Impact Club. Post-MBA I look forward to joining NGO X to drive AIDS awareness efforts in rural India.” You get the idea.
So while community service goals are admirable, they won’t have much impact unless you use strong specifics to paint their picture. My fellow editors and I would be happy to help you do that.
By Dr. Sachin Waikar, Accepted.com editor.