My “Custom MBA”: Way More For Way Less

How I gained more for less than a fifth of the price of a top MBA

Anish Malpani
16 min readJun 25, 2020


I quit the corporate world to pursue purpose in the social impact space. But I knew nothing about social impact.

So, I thought of doing an MBA with a focus on social entrepreneurship. But that just didn’t ring right — how am I going to learn about poverty sitting in a fancy classroom? And expensive much? So, I settled on doing it myself — essentially learning by doing.

In two years, I lived in three countries, worked closely with three organizations and over fifteen social entrepreneurs, learnt a new lenguaje, learnt how to code, earned board seats on two non-profits, built a deep, meaningful network with a plethora of people across borders, made the best of friends immersing myself in cultures inertly foreign, and most importantly, I learnt about the social impact space by living and working in the field.

And the kicker? All this cost me less than 1/5th of what a top two-year MBA school would cost. Yes, I did the math. A two-year MBA from Harvard in 2019 cost $211,336 and my two year “custom MBA” cost me $36,337 (scroll to the end for a summary and I also breakdown expenses in each country throughout this post).

Yes, with the COVID-19 pandemic, things seem different and strange right now. But I believe it will pass, and borders will open. It will probably never be the same, but we will embrace a new version of normal that isn’t too different from how it used to be.

So, was this “custom MBA” a better option than doing a traditional top-tier MBA? I’d like to think so. But I have incomplete information — I haven’t done an MBA now have I? So, I’ll let you decide once you’ve read through this.

Here’s how it flowed — resources, expenses, learnings, pains, joys.

The “Plan”

Right when I quit, I knew I wanted to go back to India to start my own social enterprise focused on poverty. However, the tug-of-war in my brain was this:

Should I go to India right away and learn by doing work there? Or should I frolic around the developing world, gaining a more worldly perspective on the impact space?

Both options made sense, but the latter resonated with my fancies a bit more.



Anish Malpani

Trying to incubate my own social enterprise. Also these consume me: data, spoken-word and friggin’ Arsenal.