Frequently Asked Questions

What is social impact?

For us, social impact refers to the positive impact that individuals, businesses, and other organizations may have in reducing daunting and persistent social and environmental challenges.

We draw on the UN Sustainable Development Goals to define the term more precisely.  We say that people, for-profit businesses, and other organizations have a positive social impact if:

  1. They meet basic needs. They make it possible for all to gain access to adequate food, clean water, sanitation, shelter, and freedom from violence.
  2. They create opportunities. They make it possible for all individuals to gain access to education, employment, financial inclusion, and other resources that increase their potential for economic advancement, autonomy, and security.  Or,
  3. They increase environmental sustainability. They reduce environmental pollution, combat climate change, and promote the acceptance and use of “green” energy, products, and services.

How exactly do businesses create social impact?

Businesses create positive social impact in a variety of ways. The 3P Framework is useful for describing how businesses create social impact. This framework suggests that businesses can have a positive impact through their Practices, their Products and Services, and/or their Philanthropy.

Businesses can have a positive impact as a result of:

  • Their employment practices (for example, by employing hard-to-employ individuals and providing them with fair compensation and opportunities for advancement);
  • Their production practices (for example, by limiting their carbon footprint and including only safe and fair employers in their supply chain); or
  • Their investment practices (for example, by investing in companies that have both positive financial returns and a positive social impact).

Products and Services
Businesses can also have a positive impact by offering products and services that increase access to food, water, shelter and other basic needs; that increase access to education, financial inclusion, and other opportunities for economic advancement; or that have a positive environmental impact.

Finally, businesses can have a positive impact through their philanthropic contributions. Many corporations donate money to causes they believe in. They may also encourage and support their employees in volunteer activities. Some companies link their corporate philanthropy to their sales, giving away money, products, or services for every product or service they sell.

What is impact investing?

Impact investing is the practice of investing in business with the goal of making not just a financial return, but also a positive social or environmental impact. Impact investors seek to invest in funds or companies or ventures that fulfill a larger social or environmental purpose.

The practice of impact investing is still new – the term was coined a little over a decade ago – but growing rapidly. Impact investors invest in both privately traded and publicly traded companies, of all sizes, across every asset class.

Wharton is the leading business school for research, teaching, and training in impact investing. Learn more about our focus on impact investing, including our research, training programs, and conversations with thought leaders.

What clubs exist for students and alumni interested in social impact?

Current students can learn about all of the student-run clubs and conferences by logging in to CampusGroups (Wharton) and Penn Clubs. Social impact-related clubs include: Wharton Social Impact Club, Wharton Impact Investing Partners, Wharton Africa Investment Partners, Penn International Impact Consulting, and Penn Social Entrepreneurship Movement.

Are you a Wharton alum? Join the alumni-led Wharton Alumni Social Impact Club.

I’m a prospective student interested in Wharton Social Impact Initiative. How can I learn more?

We have designed our website to tell you all you need to know! Specifically:

  • Read our stories to hear from students about their WSII program experiences
  • Check out our program pages, which share details on every program
  • Sign up for our newsletter to stay in the loop on all things WSII

What is the role of business in making social impact?

Historically, society has looked to government and charities – nonprofit organizations – to solve major social and environmental challenges and create a positive social impact.

But, over the last 10 to 20 years, it has become increasingly clear to many that government and nonprofit organizations lack the resources to achieve all necessary social and environmental change. Government and nonprofits still play a vital role, but they can’t do it alone.

Increasingly, businesses are taking up the charge to create a positive social impact. No longer are profit and purpose seen as antithetical. Today, more and more business leaders believe they can “do well” and “do good.” That is, they can earn profits while offering products, services, and employment opportunities that have a positive social or environmental impact.

What is Wharton Social Impact Initiative (WSII)?

WSII is Wharton’s cross-disciplinary center for research, training, and outreach to advance business-based solutions to social and environmental challenges.

Our mission is to strengthen the role of business in creating a more inclusive, equitable, and sustainable global economy.

Here’s what we do:

  • We develop the talent for tomorrow’s social impact. We give Penn and Wharton students and alumni the skills and training opportunities to effect smart and savvy change through business. Discover our programs.
  • We lead cutting-edge, innovative research. We provide the data, analytics, and insights to steer strategic investments that yield both positive returns and real social impact. Explore our research.
  • We build the impact investing community. We share insights, knowledge, stories, and news to increase awareness about the social impact of business. Read our news and stories.

We are not an academic department (like Wharton’s department of Marketing, Management, Finance, or Statistics, for example), nor do we offer regular academic courses for credit or a degree. Rather, we partner with and support faculty across Wharton, and lead our own programs for students, alumni, and the broader impact community. Learn more about our faculty affiliates and social impact courses.

How can I learn more about social impact?

Whether you want to just dip your toe in the waters of social impact or take a deep dive, WSII will lead you to the resources to deepen your social impact knowledge.

As a Wharton or Penn student, you can take courses on a myriad of social impact topics and strategies. Learn more about courses on impact investing, social enterprise, corporate social responsibility, private equity in emerging economies, and more.

Not a Wharton or Penn student? Explore Wharton’s online course offerings. You can take our course on Business Strategies for Social Impact, or earn a certificate by enrolling in Wharton’s specialization on Business Strategies for a Better World.

If you’re a Wharton or Penn student thinking that you want to develop your knowledge and skills so that you can be a social impact leader now and in the future, WSII is here for you.

We offer a range of programs designed to give Wharton and Penn students hands-on training in impact investing, impact measurement and analysis, corporate social responsibility, and social entrepreneurship.

Learn more about WSII programs, including the Fund for Health, WISE Fellowship, Turner Social Impact Society, and Wharton Impact Venture Associates (WIVA).

Beyond Penn and Wharton, students from a wide range of global MBA programs can participate in our Turner MIINT program and the Total Impact Portfolio Challenge.


Listen to our interviews with industry leaders on Dollars & Change, our podcast about the intersection of social impact and business.

Watch video interviews with industry thought-partners. You can discover more by searching for “Social Impact” on Knowledge@Wharton.


Want to stay up-to-date with Wharton Social Impact?

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Can I really have a career in social impact? How?

Yes, you can! Learn more from Wharton MBA Career Management.

Additionally, there are opportunities for loan forgiveness awards for recent Wharton MBA alumni. Learn more about the Bendheim Loan Forgiveness Program.

I am a current Penn/Wharton student, how can I get involved in your programs?

In July 2022, the Wharton Social Impact Initiative joined forces with several Wharton research centers and labs to form the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Initiative. Sign up here to learn more about opportunities for students at the ESG Initiative.