Interview: Max Oliva of IE Business School

To conclude our series of interviews about CSR and sustainability MBA programs and the job market, we publish excerpts from our chat with Max Oliva, associate director of the Social Impact Management project at IE Business School in Madrid.

What is the mood of the CSR community in light of the financial crisis?

We will obviously be affected by the crisis, but it will also be a good opportunity to see which companies were “walking the talk” and doing CSR strategically. They are the companies expecting benefits in innovation and bottom-line business.

But some companies were doing it on the PR or marketing basis without having it integrated, and it makes sense for them to cut back on those types of programs. You will see cutbacks in the companies that have not integrated it. That’s good for the consumers, and an opportunity for maturity in the sector and for going ahead strategically and innovation-wise.

As someone who works at a European business school, do you notice any differences in how Europeans and Americans approach CSR?

There are some differences. For example, in Europe we have much stronger government support for social issues. In the United States, philanthropy relates much more to individuals and companies. Having said that, that is only a very small part of CSR. The strategic part of CSR has been driven a lot here in the United States, but has been certainly driven as well by several European companies.

I tend to think it depends on the company. Multinationals have companies in the US and Europe. There are some companies that are quite ahead in this conversation: several American companies, but also several European companies that are approaching it much more strategically. I think the UK is a couple years ahead of the rest of Europe. I would even say that they are ahead of the US.

Is there a dedicated CSR program at IE Business School?

We have have an advanced management program for CSR. That’s for directors of CSR for different companies who want to go into more depth. But the real value is on the MBA. There, we do not have a specific program for CSR. We’ve made tremendous efforts to integrate it horizontally – strategy, marketing, or operations.

If you want to specialize in this area, we have a large set of electives, from social entrepreneurship to strategic CSR. The main objective is that we end up doing business quite differently, because the way we do business now is not sustainable.

The change needed will take decades, but in the meantime we can think of short-term solutions. Some short-term solutions are very important in raising awareness, but the most important question is how can we redesign the way of doing business. So it’s just engaging on these questions throughout the MBA and the other programs, for that matter.

We call it a platform: Social Impact Management. We didn’t want it to be a center where you go when you have some doubts. “How can we integrate CSR into this company?” “Oh, just go to the CSR center.” Then it’s nonsense. It’s like a department. No, we wanted the whole institution to think along these lines. We’ve created this platform that enables a conversation across different departments and stakeholders.

Max posts regularly on IE’s Corporate Responsibility Weblog.

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