Action Learning

MIT Sloan EMBA students team up with local nonprofits to make real impact


CAMBRIDGE, Mass., May 15, 2015 –Nonprofits serve a critical role in society, yet many are in need of greater management resources to be more impactful. Recognizing this need, MIT Sloan School of Management’s Executive MBA Program is teaming up with nonprofits as part of the Leading Complex Organizations course, which runs May 16-21. Working with Building Impact, a local not-for-profit, EMBA students will use the knowledge they’ve gained at MIT to address a variety of operational initiatives at Boston area nonprofits to help them better serve the community.

“This course is the final module for EMBA students before they graduate and it requires them to synthesize and integrate everything they’ve learned in the program. We’ve spent 20 months studying the components of management and now it’s time to put all of those pieces back together into a conception that is richer and more effective than the one they started with – and will help make a positive difference in a local nonprofit organization,” says MIT Sloan Prof. Nelson Repenning, who teaches the week-long course and is the EMBA program’s faculty director.

Diana Brennan, who graduated from MIT’s EMBA program in 2014 and is CEO of Building Impact, observes, “Volunteer work for nonprofits traditionally involves large groups organizing a day of service to clean a park or renovate a playground. This class takes volunteering to the next level by matching the skills and experience of MIT EMBA students with organizations’ needs to make a long-term difference. These projects could have a huge impact, as they could help organizations pivot and change the way they are serving the community.”

Building Impact has identified 14 organizations in the greater Boston area that face substantial challenges. Some need help with technology strategy while others need to improve the execution of their most important work processes. The organizations range from major institutions to smaller neighborhood groups.

Examples of projects include:

  • Boston Public Schools – assist with analysis of the impact of its high school assignment process on attendance, graduation, dropout, academic performance, and on-time rates.
  • Franciscan Hospital for Children – develop a centralized system to link the hospital’s business operations with that of the workforce.
  • YWCA – assist with the creation of a pilot revenue generating program to bring the Youth/Police Dialogues Program to other cities.
  • Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay – help with a geographic cluster analysis that will look at the Census demographics of clusters of cities and towns in the area for both potential youth it could serve as well as potential volunteer mentors.
  • The Jamaica Plain Multicultural Afterschool Arts Program – assist in gauging the impact that a longer Boston Public School day will have on enrollment and how marketing of the program should be adapted.

“We’ve selected projects at organizations where we think MIT EMBA students’ knowledge and skills can make a tremendous difference in the nonprofits’ capability to serve the community whether it’s through data analytics, marketing strategy, developing new revenue streams, or creating new business models,” notes Brennan. “This is a unique opportunity for both the students and the not-for-profits.”

Repenning says, “In addition to adding tremendous value for the not-for-profits, these action learning projects enrich students’ educational experience, as they require them to use everything in their toolkits from the program. This final integrative course sets them on the path to making a positive impact on their organizations, their communities, and the world.”

For more information on the MIT Executive MBA Program, please visit:

The MIT Sloan School of Management is where smart, independent leaders come together to solve problems, create new organizations, and improve the world. Learn more at

Building Impact’s mission is to strengthen communities by providing individuals and companies the knowledge and opportunities to volunteer, donate, and connect in the buildings where they work or live. In channeling 100% of this volunteerism and giving toward nonprofits and community organizations, service gaps within local communities are filled.

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