Interview with John Kalafatas, MBA 1999

A recent conversation I had with my mentor, John Kalafatas (MBA 1999), shed new light for me on the opportunities and benefits of working in the social enterprise sector.

After graduating from HBS, John worked as a consultant to non-profits and conducted social sector research at HBS. He now serves as Director of Strategic Planning & Organizational Development at City Year, Inc., a non-profit dedicated to the mission of promoting national citizen service as a means of building a stronger democracy. As a part of this mission, City Year organizes leadership development and community service activities for 17-24 year-olds at 14 sites across the country.

John’s passion for his work is contagious, and his experience and insight are valuable for anyone considering opportunities in the social enterprise sector. Here are some highlights from our conversation:

Harbus: You began working in Social Enterprise immediately following graduation. Why do you think so many people wait until later in their careers to work in the non-profit sector?

JK: My mission is to challenge people to work in social enterprise immediately following their MBA. I think it’s important to dispel the myths that often prevent people from pursuing non-profit careers right after school – or keep them from entering the field at all. The three most common reasons that I have heard are: (1) I can’t get the professional development I need at a non-profit; (2) I will be poorly compensated for my work; and (3) I will not be able to have the same impact because non-profits resist change.

While there is some truth to all of these, the reality is that it is changing.

In terms of professional development, you will most likely have more responsibility in the non-profit world at an earlier point in your career.

Additionally, as an MBA, you will do a lot of teaching and training, which is one of the best ways to learn. While you may need to be more creative about developing your professional network and may get less formal training, you can find mentors and opportunities for learning and development wherever you go. Although I knew non-profit work would be fulfilling, I was surprised to discover how intellectually stimulating it I; not just because of its content, but because the leadership and management issues are often more complex than in the business sector.

Additionally, your compensation may be better that you anticipate. The average salary of HBS graduates going directly into the non-profit sector is $80,000, and it goes up from there.

Finally, I have found that non-profits are increasingly receptive to business ideas and talent, and are willing to change. In fact, they often want change. With good due diligence, you can find the right organization where you can create impact.

Harbus: Why did you decide to join City Year?

JK: I would say there were five main reasons. The first was that the organization’s mission is inspiring and its values align with my own. The second was that the people were smart, dedicated and passionate. The third was that I was given the chance to create the job I wanted to do, a role that does not exist in most non-profits. The fourth was the opportunity to work for a young, entrepreneurial organization with big upside potential. And finally, the fifth was that the organization recognized its problems and had the organizational will to overcome them.

Harbus: What most impresses you about City Year?

JK: City Year is seeking to build a 21st century institution that integrates the best ideas from the non-profit, business and public sectors. The organization is explicit and bold about trying to bring about large-scale social change, and we have a real opportunity to help achieve a big vision for citizen service in America. We are working to build a whole new field, not just our own organization. A rewarding part of my job is that, even though I work at National Headquarters, I get front line exposure to the inspiring work that we do every day. I regularly meet citizen heroes – our corps members – and hear their stories about the people they are serving and how that experience is changing their own lives.

Harbus: What advice do you have for HBS students who are deciding whether or not to pursue an opportunity with a non-profit organization?

JK: To paraphrase Gandhi, “Be the change you seek in the world.” Don’t wait; do it now. Instead of serving as a board member or volunteer – join us full time in social enterprise. Non-profits are starting to understand the value that MBAs can add and in many cases need business talent to continue to grow and flourish. While the sector is already beginning to change, there is still a great opportunity for impact.

Harvard MBAs have the opportunity and responsibility to lead this change.

This profile is part of a semester-long series that highlights the lives of HBS alumni involved with nonprofits, socially oriented for-profits, and government. Each featured alumni is a participant in the Social Enterprise Club’s mentorship program, which currently facilitates interactions between 35 mentor/student partners. For more information about this program, please contact Ted Hill at