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:
- Dynamic Work Design: a framework and supporting set of tools for designing and creating more effective and engaging work (developed at MIT).
- 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.
- 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.