15.335 Orgs Lab

Leading with Impact


MIT Sloan MBA student interest in using business acumen and analytic tools to tackle social and environmental challenges has never been higher. As future organizational leaders, they seek to evolve their strategic thinking and exposure to effectively lead corporations addressing sustainability; impact investing; and improving diversity, equity, and inclusion. A new generation of MBA coursework is responding to this demand, examining the differentiated role a corporate leader can play by driving long-term value and creating competitive advantage through purpose-driven decisions. Leading With Impact: Organization Lab emphasizes engaging beyond the corporation – to multiple organizations and the existing systems that connect them. By design, Orgs Lab: Leading with Impact reflects a vision that business schools offer future leaders hands-on learning opportunities for change by engaging in social impact projects in their own backyard.

Previous cohorts from this course include students from MIT Sloan MBA, MIT Engineering as well as Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard School of Public Health, Wellesley College and the Harvard Graduate School of Education, who work together on teams in addressing social challenges from housing, to education, to food access across greater Boston.

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 a 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 multi-sector intersections, leaders must become aware of their own biases and privilege and engage in problem solving through culturally relevant capacity building.

This course provides crosswalks between theory and practice, and it does so by having students experience the impact of their problem solving and actions in a mission-driven project. They learn to connect specific interventions made by individual leaders with organizational and community transformation. Although an action-learning project with a specific nonprofit anchors the course, it 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 policymaking to the collective outcomes sought, with a goal of implementing real change.

Useful Links

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 non-profit 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 wellbeing. 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 designated by the nonprofit leaders by thoughtfully engaging in a co-design of a process improvement that will make a material difference in the nonprofit's 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 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 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.
  • Complete 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 & Grading

Organizations 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 action learning 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.

For a syllabus, please follow this link.

Useful Links