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.

Practices
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.

Philanthropy
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 student-led clubs exist for students interested in social impact?

Beyond the programming WSII offers, many student groups are passionate about impact across Penn and Wharton. See more about Wharton MBA student clubs (such as the Wharton Social Impact Club) and undergraduate clubs at Penn and Wharton.

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 strengthen business-based solutions to social and environmental challenges.

Our mission is to build the evidence, talent, and community to advance business solutions for a better world.

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.

TAKE A COURSE
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.

GET HANDS-ON TRAINING
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 WISE Fellowship, the Turner Social Impact Society, Wharton Africa Growth Partners, and the Total Impact Portfolio Challenge.

Beyond Penn and Wharton, students from a wide range of global MBA programs can participate in our MIINT program. Learn more.

LISTEN TO OUR INTERVIEWS WITH INDUSTRY LEADERS
Across the world, there’s a conversation underway about the role and impact of business in solving social and environmental challenges.

Want to know what people are talking about?

Listen to our interviews with industry leaders on Dollars & Change, our weekly talk show on the social impact of business. We’re live on Thursday mornings from 8 – 10 am eastern time on SiriusXM 132 Business Radio powered by the Wharton School. Check out Dollars & Change podcasts from Wharton Business Radio Highlights.

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

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

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