Action Learning

Organizations Lab: Leading with Impact

Orgs-Lab addresses the question of how individuals can transform organizations, and in doing so, the communities in which those organizations reside.

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Organizations Lab: Leading with Impact


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15.335 Organizations Lab: Leading with Impact

Organizations Lab: Leading with Impact (Orgs-Lab) places an important emphasis on engaging beyond the corporation – to multiple organizations and the existing systems that connect them. By design, Orgs-Lab reflects a vision that business schools offer future leaders hands-on learning opportunities for change by engaging in a project of social impact in their own backyard. Student teams work together to address social challenges, from housing, to education, to food access across Greater Boston.

Outside MIT Sloan, previous cohorts include students from:

  • MIT School of Engineering
  • Harvard Graduate School of Education
  • Harvard Kennedy School
  • Harvard School of Public Health
  • Wellesley College
Organizations Lab: Leading with Impact


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Making an impact

Orgs-Lab students work with Greater Boston organizations facing significant challenges in delivering on their chosen mission. These projects allow students to truly make an impact in their local community,. 

Orgs-Lab impact stories

Other sample projects

  • The Boston chapter of a large-scale national mentoring program was struggling to recruit new mentors among industry professionals now working from home more frequently post pandemic. Geographic proximity to Boston neighborhoods, and representation from a diverse community of mentors were among the constraints for the new mentor recruitment efforts.
  • A nonprofit organization addressing the complex and high needs for housing in the Boston Metro Area helps hundreds of families each year by providing furniture as they transition into a new apartment or home. Along with over 100 nonprofit partners, this organization recognized a significant challenge causing cancellations for families was the lack of access and funds for the transportation of the furniture from the donation center in MetroWest, to their homes in over 20 Greater Boston communities.
  • A well-known organization with a prized after-school athletics program was challenged to provide impact measures for preparing student athletes to matriculate and persist for degree attainment in college. The organization needed help in assessing attendance and outcome measures of their tutoring, STEM and robotics, and college-readiness programs
Organizations Lab: Leading with Impact

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The class

Orgs-Lab offers students a rare hands-on opportunity to apply their analytical skills to real-world social challenges, which involve stakeholders across multiple sectors, including business, government, social enterprises, and nonprofit organizations (NGOs). Student learning centers on problem solving, rather than analysis. Class discussions consider leadership among stakeholders from for-profit, nonprofit, philanthropic and government sectors in solving these challenges. Being on the ground regularly at the nonprofit allows students to develop the deep awareness of context required to be successful in driving substantial and meaningful change within and outside of an organization. To effect positive change at these multisectoral intersections, leaders must become aware of their own biases and privilege and engage in problem solving through culturally relevant capacity building.

Although an Action Learning project with a specific nonprofit anchors the course, Orgs-Lab is not about managing nonprofits. Its primary objective is to learn about making change – by connecting the individual actions taken by leaders involved in a social cause, from funding, operations, and policy making to the collective outcomes sought, with a goal for implementing real change.

Course objectives and scope

Leading an organization to achieve a mission-driven objective, whether social impact focused or not, is complex because it involves systems design and human interactions to achieve a common goal. This course equips emerging leaders with the skills, practice, social context, and self-awareness required to have a meaningful impact in response to societal challenges. It provides tools and frameworks for understanding how individuals can have a transformative impact on organizations and the larger ecosystems in which they operate and the critical opportunity to apply them. 

Orgs-Lab introduces two complementary approaches to equip students for impactful leadership:

  1. Dynamic Work Design: a framework and supporting set of tools for designing and creating more effective and engaging work (developed at MIT).
  2. Cross-Sector Stakeholder Mapping: an innovative framework for assessing social investment and outcome measurement.

The course centerpiece is a semester-long Action Learning project with nonprofit leaders, their teams, and their boards, addressing challenges that require an understanding of their funding from corporate and philanthropic sectors, government programs, and fees. It is not a simulation, and the stakes are high.

About the nonprofit context

Housing, social services, geographical location, and education are among the most important social determinants of individual and community health and well being. Whether due to socioeconomic disadvantages, systemic racism, or lack of access to education and job opportunities, an ever-growing number of people do not benefit from the advantages of living in an advanced industrial economy. Nonprofits and government agencies intervene to provide critical services to these marginalized individuals. Frequently relying upon donors for their viability, nonprofits often operate under constraints in resources, structure, and management that challenge their ability to achieve their social impact mission. Within this context, Orgs-Lab students have a unique opportunity to apply their knowledge of systems and practice of leadership to advance a specific nonprofit organization’s mission.

Working with Building Impact, Orgs-Lab identifies several local organizations in Greater Boston facing significant challenges in delivering on their chosen mission, challenges that students are well-positioned to address. Some nonprofits need help with their strategy for reaching those they serve; others face significant challenges in the execution of vital work processes. Students work on projects with nonprofit leaders, thoughtfully co-designing process improvements that make a material difference in the nonprofits’ social impact outcomes.

Throughout the course, students also examine leadership exemplars in the for-profit, nonprofit, and public sectors. They explore cases that prompt inquiry into complex social systems in areas from housing and employment to credit, education, and criminal justice.

Why take this course?

We live in an era when many companies are being prompted to reevaluate their priorities and how they understand their relationship with workers, the environment, and the community at large. Leaders need insights into how they might expand their definition of stakeholders to include employees and the communities in which they operate. As employees and customers examine the relationship that exists between a company and its community across a range of social causes, the way an organization engages in addressing complex social issues offers a purpose-driven connection for humans connected to that brand.

Most MIT Sloan graduates enter, found, and lead for-profit organizations, many of which are grappling with larger cross-sectoral issues and responsibilities. Orgs-Lab offers direct experience with the challenges tackled by nonprofit organizations, providing a window into areas of social impact that may increasingly be relevant to their corporate bottom line and ESG goals. Hands-on practice with multisectoral stakeholder engagement provides future leaders with important decision-making insights and processes applicable to their future employee base and the larger ecosystem in which their corporation operates. This could include decisions ranging from the pay scale of entry level employees, the benefits afforded for family leave to the hiring and promotion practices to create a diverse and inclusive organization, and the organization’s carbon footprint. Whether private, public, for-profit, or nonprofit, organizations are just collections of people and, often, change starts with a few of their members deciding something could or should be different in the communities where they live and work.

Course requirements

  • Attendance of weekly, Monday evening, 4:00pm- 7:00pm classes. Held in person only
  • Completion of several assignments, corresponding to the steps in the A3 problem solving process
  • Completion of a final Action Learning project working with a local organization
  • Meaningful participation in class​ 

Credits and grading

Orgs-Lab is a 9-credit course offered during the spring term. Projects will be graded based on the significance of the difference you achieve for your host organization. Individuals will also be graded on their reflections on leadership, participation, engagement, and the timely completion of assignments.​ This course meets the MBA Leadership Elective requirement.​

Interested in enrolling?

Students interested in Orgs-Lab can bid for the course starting in early December.

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