By Daniel Hunter

Today’s business schools are not just about high finance, blue-chip companies and maximising profits. A new generation of entrepreneurs are turning to MBA programmes for the know-how to build ambitious social enterprises, and make a real difference to the community.

A good example is Coach First — an initiative that grew out of a Team Consulting Project on the Executive MBA at Cambridge Judge Business School. Its aim is to address two very different social ills: the unacceptably large number of young people who are not in education, employment or training (NEET) in England; and growing rates of childhood obesity and associated health problems caused by a lack of physical activity.

The Coach First concept is simple and elegant. Young people classified as NEET are given a 12-month salaried work placement in a primary school. Their task is to act as a positive role model, inspiring children to be physically active and promoting the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. While on placement, they are equipped with the qualifications and skills to make them a more attractive candidate to a future employer.

A key feature of the Coach First model is in attracting corporate sponsors with a Corporate Social Responsibility opportunity that offers organisations the platform to make a significant difference to both childhood obesity and youth unemployment on a national footprint whilst maintaining a local impact. Sponsoring organisations also have the opportunity to mentor and potentially consider employing candidates that have successfully completed the programme.

The initiative was developed by Gareth Lippiatt, founder and executive chairman of sports development franchise Sports Xtra, and two of his colleagues on the Executive MBA. He says: “We came up with the core idea because it’s a model I’ve used successfully in my own business. What I wanted to do was scale it up — to see if it could work on a far larger scale, and impact more kids, more schools and more NEETs and young people.”

Statistics suggest that both of the issues being tackled by Coach First represent serious social problems. Almost a million 16 to 24-year-olds are outside education, employment and training, and each teenage NEET is estimated to cost the economy £56,000 over the course of a lifetime1. Around 22% of four and five-year-olds in England are overweight or obese, and the figure rises to 33% among 11-year-olds2.

A wealth of talent from the Executive MBA course is contributing to the development of the Coach First model. Gareth Lippiatt’s partners on the project are Mark Yaniw, business development advisor at Nexen Petroleum UK Ltd, and Shyam Sadasivan, who is a licensing manager at the Cambridge-based semiconductor firm ARM.

Lippiatt believes that the EMBA has broadened his horizons and furnished him with the diverse skills needed to make a success of the project. “The programme makes you step outside your comfort zone,” he says. “You’re always working with experts — whether you’re looking at corporate finance, accountancy, or whatever other subject, you’ll have people in the room who have far more knowledge than you do, and you’ll be learning from them.

“In the long term, it gives you an incredible amount of confidence. Pretty much any environment you get placed in, you have the confidence that you can handle it in a way that will do you justice.”

And one aspect of the programme has proved particularly valuable in putting across the Coach First business plan to potential sponsors. He says: “The EMBA has given me the language skills to articulate things that were instinctive to me as an entrepreneur, but which I couldn’t explain with the clarity that I wanted when explaining concepts and ideas to staff or people we were pitching to. Now I can put across those ideas in a much better way.”

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