This time last year I never imagined I would be sitting in a hall of residence, surrounded by the paraphernalia of student life, writing about my experiences of studying for an MBA at the University of Cambridge.  And yet, here I am.

I’ll admit my decision to go to business school raised a few eyebrows amongst friends.  Having spent the first nine years of my career working in international wildlife conservation, a sideways step to spend a year studying the likes of corporate finance, organisational behavior and accounting was, well, an interesting choice.

However, as my career progressed two significant factors emerged.  Unsurprisingly my responsibilities increased as more was expected from me as a manager, leader and strategic thinker within my organisation.  Secondly, having faced the frustrating constraints of being grant-dependent; I wanted to increase impact by working with local partners and communities to develop projects based on enterprise models—capable of self-financing.  I found myself in an environment where having the skills of an MBA would be incredibly valuable.

When I heard there was still the opportunity to apply for a Sainsbury Bursary for entry onto the 2014-15 MBA programme, I jumped at the chance. The scheme is open to prospective Cambridge students from the charitable or voluntary sectors that need financial aid to help fund their MBA. I had a gut feeling and, as an understated Brit like my father would say, “it seems to be paying off”.

The first six months of the course have flown by in an intense period of study and relationship-forming.  Academic highlights so far include inspiring sessions on organisational behavior and leadership, revelations in corporate finance classes that have dramatically elevated my understanding of the sector, consultancy projects for a medical software start-up and an affordable housing project respectively, and getting to grips with the financial and working-capital challenges of new enterprises.

However, it’s no exaggeration to say that I am learning as much from my peers and extra-curricular activities as I am from classes.  Coming from my sector into the MBA, I was initially apprehensive—unsure whether I would encounter like minds, interested in working for social and/or environmental impact alongside financial return.

I needn’t have worried.  While there is a modest percentage of students who have come straight from the social sector, a far greater number have deep motivations to achieve positive impact in the world through their profession, irrespective of sector.  There is the investment banker-come-social entrepreneur, the student from a family business that invests profits into care for vulnerable children, the engineer supporting an NGO that assists refugees and immigrants to find job opportunities, and many many more.

We are an active community, and through the student-led Social Innovation Special Interest Group, we are creating further opportunities to pursue our shared interest in business models which deliver positive social and environmental benefit.  Activities so far have included collaboration with London Business School and Oxford Saïd Business School on an ‘impact investment’ workshop, a Cambridge-hosted lecture by Oxfam’s Head of Food & Climate Policy and Campaigns and a career trek to visit London-based employers in the sector. We are currently preparing for an upcoming workshop that will examine the realities of corporate responsibility and what it means to be a true leader of social innovation in the private sector.  Having the opportunity to chair this group is one of the greatest privileges of my MBA experience.

Last but by no means least, I’m grateful to have started at Cambridge Judge Business School in the same year as the launch of the school’s dedicated Centre for Social Innovation, under the ambitious and experienced leadership of Dr. Neil Stott and Professor Paul Tracey.   If I had a spiritual home at CJBS then it would be here.  The Centre forms a bridge between the worlds of academia, policy and practice in social innovation, aiming to support current and future social innovators in all sectors to achieve positive social and environmental impacts.

The fact that social innovation is strengthening its foothold in the School and the hearts and minds of my peers is one of my greatest sources of optimism for our common future.  The epic challenges being faced globally cannot be tackled without enlightened and determined action across all sectors.  The skills, knowledge and, importantly, global networks that we are establishing during the MBA will hopefully ‘turbo-charge’ us to make that difference in the future.

So here I am – the last paragraph of this blog post completed in my favourite independent coffee shop in Cambridge – aware that the MBA is fleeting past at an incredible pace.  But grateful to be on the roller coaster ride and looking forward to applying all that I have gained, back into the work that forms my passion.

Find out more about the Cambridge MBA.

Find out more about the Sainsbury Bursary Scheme.

Explore the Cambridge Centre for Social Innovation.