The Aspen Institute’s recently updated Beyond Grey Pinstripes, the list of top 100 top socially- and environmentally- conscious MBA programs, has generated a lot of interest in how business schools are (or are not) developing curriculum that will foster socially sustainable thinking. Fast Company recently interviewed Judy Samuelson, Aspen’s director of business and society, who said that, while b-schools are providing a more ethical and socially-conscious framework for students, in general, they’re still not leading. That may be true, but if anything, Beyond Grey Pinstripes shows that many business schools are starting to take the ideas of corporate social responsibility (CSR) seriously, and that many students are being exposed to this thinking throughout their MBA programs.
So, is this kind of thinking rubbing off on students?
A glance at some recent projects and startups created by MBA students and recent graduates shows that this new type of thinking is indeed having a positive effect, and may be influencing a new breed of businesses that are, through innovation and the adoption of traditional business principles, tackling social and environmental problems.
His students may not be anything like Gordon Gekko, the ruthless antagonist of the film Wall Street. But Raymond Horton, the director of the Social Enterprise Program at Columbia Business School, says CSR- and sustainability-focused MBA grads will still be in demand in a tough economy.
How will the current financial turmoil affect the corporate social responsibility branch? I imagine that companies that have to make job cuts might look here first.
To the extent that CSR units are located in the public relations parts of businesses, you might be right. But I think there has been a sea change here. Most people from Columbia Business School who want to be social enterprisers and practice corporate social responsibility are going into operating divisions, and incorporating CSR into the basic routines and policies of the organizations. So they’re not going to get displaced. It’s just another way of saying that CSR has become a profit center in a lot of businesses.
Is now the the right time to get an MBA in this branch?
I don’t know what the experience is at other schools, but I know our applications are up over 25 percent this year. I think a lot of people figure this is a good time to get an MBA. For somebody who came out of college and went to work on Wall Street or management consulting for four or five years, if they figure they are going to get an advanced degree at some point – and maybe they’ve just gotten laid off, or they think they’re going to get laid off or not going to get a salary increase – it becomes a good time to go to school.