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Creating Community Impact, Bettering B-Schools

Through community projects, business schools help those in need, provide meaningful experience to students, and keep social impact at their core.

The COVID-19 outbreak served as a reminder to business schools of the value of working with local communities, springing COVID relief projects and initiatives into action. London Business School’s COVID-19 Volunteer Group organized volunteering at local food banks and homeless shelters, while China’s Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business raised over 570 million USD to support victims of the virus and provide medical supplies.

Even before coronavirus, business schools have led various outreach and engagement projects for some time, leveraging their expertise, funds, and people power for the benefit of local communities.

While strong community ties boost the brand reputation of the school, helping to attract students from the local area and beyond, they also provide an opportunity to engage students with impactful, practical learning experiences, from pro bono consulting projects to work with local nonprofits.

Many social impact projects are student-led, with support from schools. But business schools are also taking steps to establish initiatives of their own, embedding social impact within the curriculum, engaging with the local community, and giving back.

Impact in the Curriculum

At the U.K.’s Alliance Manchester Business School, full-time MBA students work with local nonprofits on the Not for Profit Project. The project matches teams of five MBA students with various local nonprofit organizations for 10 weeks.

Students gain real-world consulting project experience, while the nonprofits receive over 200 hours of consultancy work for free, in addition to five days of support from a faculty mentor, worth an equivalent of around 13,500 USD in consultancy fees according to the school.

Nonprofit partners include Early Break, a Manchester-based nonprofit supporting young people and families with substance use disorders, and Tommy’s Rainbow Clinic, which provides specialist care for women in a pregnancy following a previous stillbirth or neonatal death.

Following recommendations from Manchester MBA students, Early Break implemented a new financial reporting system, while Tommy’s Rainbow Clinic used the consulting experience to first assess the value they offer clinic attendees and charity investors and to then evaluate the financial stability of the clinic itself.

For MBA students, the Not for Profit Project is the first of a series of Applied Learning Experiences on the program, which also includes projects focused on international business as well as mergers and acquisitions.

“These nonprofit organizations would never be able to afford to hire people with the knowledge these MBAs have, so it’s very valuable for them, but also great for the students to experience working in a local community not-for-profit,” says Xavier Duran, director of the school’s MBA programs. Further, he says, the project demonstrates the MBA program’s commitment to social responsibility and establishes its approach to “robust and principled consultancy.”

In the United States, the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business in Athens is one of several U.S. schools to run a nonprofit board fellows program, offered through the social innovation track of its full-time MBA.

Terry’s program places first-year MBA students on the boards of directors of Athens-area nonprofits—including the American Red Cross of Northeast Georgia, the Athens Community Council on Aging, and the Athens Land Trust—where they serve in an advisory role as non-voting members for the duration of the two-year MBA program.

Efforts Toward Equity

Business schools consistently take steps to encourage diversity in their programs, offering scholarships to students in underrepresented groups, including women, racial minorities, and international students, among others.

Yet schools should also ensure that prospective students closer to home view them as accessible, whatever their educational backgrounds.

The Georgetown Reach program, of the Georgetown University McDonough School of Business in Washington, D.C., introduces eighth grade students and their parents—many of whom haven’t previously attended college—to the college selection process and college life.

The free, one-week program is designed to raise awareness among young underrepresented students that attending college is a realistic goal.

In the fall of 2020, the program took place virtually for the first time, with participants taking online classes covering current affairs with business school professors and meeting current business school students. A compulsory parent’s seminar covered the college admissions process and financial aid. After the program, Georgetown Reach remains in contact with participants through mentoring opportunities.

Elsewhere, business schools are reaching out to diverse members of the local community in different ways. The Pride@SBS group at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School brings students, alumni, and prospective students together to support the LGBTQ community at the school.

The group organizes mentorship, networking events with corporate recruiters, and a virtual conference with LGBTQ students from other European business schools, including Cambridge University’s Judge Business School, London Business School, INSEAD, and HEC Paris.

In partnership with Reaching Out MBA, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering LGBTQ students, Oxford Saïd offers prospective students two Reaching Out MBA Fellowships, which include a scholarship award of more than 20,000 USD.

Harvard Business School, which also offers Reaching Out MBA fellowships, hosts an LGBTQ Visit Day each year—an open house for LGBTQ applicants that includes a campus tour, class visits, and presentations on how to apply to the school.

Boots on the Ground

In addition to student consulting projects, schools use the in-house expertise they have to support people in the community.

Emlyon Business School, in Lyon, runs an Entrepreneurs in Town initiative in partnership with the French nonprofit Sport Dans La Ville. The program supports local entrepreneurs from low-income neighborhoods in getting their projects off the ground, providing free training, mentoring, and space in a startup accelerator for two years.

The Business+Impact Initiative, of the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business in Ann Arbor, runs the Accounting Outreach program to provide Detroit businesses with accounting services. Small business owners and startup founders can benefit from free accounting consultations and personalized advice on a weekly basis.

Business schools are most visible in the local community when students and staff go outside the confines of campus and actively participate in projects. London Business School is helping people in need through its LBS for London initiative, where students and staff contribute work for nonprofit organizations across the city over a weekend each year.

LBS volunteers have worked for nonprofits including The Marylebone Project, which provides short-term accommodation and support to homeless women, and North London Cares, which tackles loneliness and isolation in north London by bringing older and younger neighbors together.

At Vlerick Business School in Belgium, all staff and faculty take part in the Vlerick Giving Back initiative, the brainchild of Dean Marion Debruyne. The Vlerick volunteers go into the local community together to work on various social projects for one day each year.

“One example [last year] was helping out in a home for teenage girls who needed to be placed out of their home temporarily due to difficult family situations,” Debruyne explains. “Vlerick staff worked in their garden for the afternoon, planting plants and decorating.”

At the end of the day, staff gather on campus, and each volunteering group presents an elevator pitch for their project, putting it forward for funding. The money the school raises through this and other fundraising initiatives over the course of a year—including the Vlerick Christmas Market—is donated to three selected causes.

“This is a team-building day, but a ‘giving back to the local community’ day too,” says Debruyne, who was part of team volunteering at a local mental health center.

“We may be in academia, but we don’t need to stay in our ivory towers! By working with the people behind the initiatives we raise money for, we tore down the walls and opened ourselves up to the local community.”

While the ways schools are creating impact in their local communities vary, building closer ties and providing funding and expertise benefit both local communities and business schools themselves.

Marco De Novellis, editor, BusinessBecauseMarco De Novellis is the editor of BusinessBecause, an online publisher dedicated to graduate management education, and is the creator and host of the podcast, The Business School Question. Follow him on Twitter @marcodenov.