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Free The Children co-founder Craig Kielburger did an EMBA to help him most efficiently manage the more than $23-million in donor dollars the charity now collects every year.

CHRIS YOUNG/Chris Young/The Canadian Press

When Craig Kielburger decided to pursue an executive MBA, he was already thoroughly grounded in international development issues through his involvement with Free The Children, the charitable organization he co-founded as an idealistic 12-year-old collecting change from his Grade 7 classmates.

"Where I felt I was lacking was [in knowledge about]currency hedges, efficient lines of distribution, products, marketing, HR, rules of management. It was a fascinating learning experience," Mr. Kielburger, now 27, said of his Kellogg-Schulich EMBA studies, which he completed last year.

Mr. Kielburger said he was able to immediately apply the lessons, as he learned them, to Me to We, the social enterprise he and his co-founder brother created to support the charitable operations of Free The Children, which builds schools and participates in other community initiatives designed to help children in the developing world.

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Me to We "functions like a company. It just so happens that instead of paying dividends to stockholders, you give it to charity, but it's the same basic concept. We run a clothing line, we have a travel division, we run a book publishing company," said Mr. Kielburger, whose undergraduate degree is in peace and conflict studies. Half of the proceeds from Me to We go toward paying the administrative costs of Free The Children, and the other 50 per cent is reinvested to build the social enterprise.

Every year, the Kellogg-Schulich EMBA program offers a scholarship to a promising candidate from a non-profit organization in the interest of encouraging more professional management skills in a sector that is well-intentioned but under increasing pressure to deploy donor dollars more effectively, academic director André deCarufel said in an interview.

At a time when many charitable organizations are facing "donor fatigue," more non-profit organizations are looking at the social enterprise model adopted by the Kielburgers to reduce their dependence on government grants and other outside sources of operating funds, Mr. deCarufel said.

This emerging trend has not been lost on Canadian business schools, which are adapting their traditional MBA programs to accommodate a small, but growing, cohort of students interested in pursuing careers in the non-profit sector.

Carleton University's Sprott School of Business recently launched what it describes as Canada's first MBA program focusing on the management side of international development. The new MBA specialty was created to address "a critical shortage" of management skills in the organization and delivery of international aid efforts, the business school said in announcing the program.

"They [non-profit organizations involved in international aid]need operational efficiency and they also need good accounting, good project management, and good money-management skills to satisfy their donors," said Roland Thomas, assistant dean of Carleton's MBA programs. "Then there's the whole business of managing supply chains, getting the aid to where it's needed," he said.

York University's Schulich School of Business has long held be view that "management education is not just about business," said Brenda Gainer, director of the school's non-profit management and leadership program, said in an interview.

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The skills taught in MBA programs "are highly, highly relevant to non-profit organizations," Prof. Gainer said. "They have to make their own way in the world, they have to be entrepreneurial, they have to be accountable, they have to be very, very careful with their resources and strategic about how they deploy them."

The non-profit management and leadership program option equips Schulich MBAs with additional skills that they can apply to careers or volunteer efforts in the sector, she said, adding that York has "just created a new course called social purpose business.

"It's about things like social entrepreneurship, micro-finance, fair trade, because there are a lot of places now where the business sector and the non-profit sector are actually starting to overlap . . . that's really where things are evolving, and we have to be on top of all this."

Mr. Kielburger said his aim is to have Me to We eventually pay for the entire operating costs of Free the Children, so that every donor dollar raised goes directly to the charity's education, clean water and emergency aid programs. The social enterprise now covers more than 90 per cent of Free The Children's administrative costs.

When Mr. Kielburger embarked on his EMBA education, he knew he would acquire the management skills he needed "to maximize" the more than $23-million in donor dollars the charity now collects every year and put the money to its most efficient use. For instance, the supply-chain management lessons he learned while studying the distribution methods employed by Coca-Cola recently came into play when his organization was working out the logistics of getting emergency medical aid into Haiti after the earthquake.

What Mr. Kielburger did not anticipate was the friendships he would make with the senior executives who were his classmates, many of whom now volunteer as mentors to Free The Children's employees.

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Before the Kellogg-Schulich EMBA class of 2009 dispersed last year, Mr. Kielburger's classmates once again came through and presented him with a parting gift: the funds to build a school in Kenya.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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