5 Ways B-Schools Are Championing People Over Profit

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Thursday, June 23, 2022
By Marco De Novellis
Photo by iStock/xavierarnau
Efforts to redefine the purpose of business start with redesigning curriculum to create future leaders focused on societal impact.
  • "Business for good" is more than just a catchphrase; it's a movement that many of today's business schools are ushering into reality through initiatives that aim to highlight the positive potential of business.
  • By focusing their programs on areas like global health, social enterprise, humanitarian efforts, and more, schools are helping today's learners develop into societal impact leaders of tomorrow.
  • To meet the needs of society and learners, business schools will need to continue creating innovative learning paths to positive impact.

Sustainable business is good business, and the evidence is there to prove it. 

According to McKinsey, companies that incorporate environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors into their business models can achieve better growth, reduce costs, boost employee productivity, and better stand out to investors. 

To ensure the next generation of business leaders uses business as a force for good, business schools today consider the triple bottom line, focusing as much on social and environmental issues as they do profit. 

Alongside offering scholarships to underprivileged groups and focusing their own research efforts on positive change, business schools are increasingly engaging students in nonprofit consulting, social entrepreneurship, and social impact projects, helping them develop both themselves and the wider community. 

Here are five innovative ways business schools are championing people over profit: 

1. Combatting Global Health Challenges

UCL Global Business School for Health

The first cohort of MBA Health students at London’s UCL Global Business School for Health will begin courses in September this year. The MBA Health program is designed to provide students with the competencies of a traditional MBA combined with practical application healthcare management skills.  

Core modules include Strategy, People and Marketing; Funding, Finance and Regulation; Data Driven Management; and Contemporary Topics in Health and Healthcare, which covers hot topics like artificial intelligence for health solutions and digital health transformation. 

As part of the MBA, students also spend two weeks in a low or middle-income country during the Global Health Challenge. In teams, students will conceptualize issues, undertake fieldwork, and work to find solutions to a current health problem in the country.  

Nora Colton, director of the UCL Global Business School for Health, says the Challenge provides an opportunity to pursue an in-depth project that makes a difference—not only for students, but for others too. 

Business schools should look to an ESG approach, she advises, to evaluate the extent to which their work contributes to societal goals. 

“By focusing on the impact business practices have on society, business schools can move away from just thinking and teaching about profits and start to look for results through impact data that fosters making a difference.”

2. Promoting Sustainability

NYU Stern

NYU Stern has a long history of championing sustainability, having introduced a required social impact course for undergraduate students in 1998. That initial offering has since evolved into a four-course social impact sequence, Business and Society, recognized by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching as a model for undergraduate business education. 

In 2016, NYU Stern established its Center for Sustainable Business, which has developed opportunities including a sustainability careers boot camp for undergraduates, webinars and workshops on topics like regenerative agriculture and impact investing, summer MBA fellowships in human rights and sustainability with companies such as Applegate and Bloomberg, and MBA consulting projects for companies facing sustainability challenges. 

The center also conducts research measuring the impact of sustainability and ESG. NYU’s Sustainable Market Share Index 2021 found that sustainability-marketed products were responsible for a third of the growth in the consumer packaged goods industry from 2015 to 2021. 

In fall 2022, NYU Stern is launching a new Sustainable Finance MBA Career Development Program for Women, EmpowHER, that aims to help a diverse group of values-driven MBA students build their financial expertise and networks, creating the foundation for gainful career opportunities in sustainable finance.  

In this field, professionals can work to drive investment into companies that are solving pressing environmental and social challenges. 

“At NYU Stern, we are helping students learn how to employ sustainability as a tool for good management, leading to competitive advantage as well as improvements in society,” explains Tensie Whelan, founding director of the Center for Sustainable Business. 

“Our aim is to help students develop a sustainability mindset; one that thinks in systems, looks to provide win-win pathways for all stakeholders, and focuses on providing solutions for the sustainability challenges of the day, such as climate change and DEI.” 

3. Supporting Social Enterprises

GBSB Global Business School

Agua NEA, Spain’s first 100 percent plastic- and BPA-free mineral water brand, is just one example of a social impact company launched out of GBSB Global Business School’s startup accelerator. 

Each year, the G-Accelerator announces its Impact Call, a six-month pre-accelerator program that provides training, mentoring, networking, and financial support to early-stage entrepreneurs focused on developing a venture with “triple impact” (social, economic, and environmental sustainability). 

G-Accelerator director Xavier Arola says more students today are interested in social impact, and programs are attracting government support. The Impact Call is backed by the European Social Fund and Catalonia’s Ministry of Business and Labor. 

“There has been a significant increase in the number of companies embracing social impact as their core value and students, as consumers and future global leaders, are taking notice and expect their learning institutions to go beyond making simple profits,” Arola explains. 

“To maintain credibility, stay afloat, and remain at the front of global change, business schools must embed a number of pillars into their DNA, from globalization and digitalization to inclusion and positive impact on society.” 

4. Scholarships for Ukraine

ESMT Berlin

For Joanna Radeke, executive director of the FUTURE Institute for Sustainable Transformation at ESMT Berlin, resilient companies need to take care of the triple bottom line: profit, planet, and people. 

The 2001 launch of the institute the first step of ESMT’s Sustainable Business Transformation Initiative, which aims to increase the school’s research and educational footprint in areas critical for impact on business and society—like sustainable finance, circular business, and impact measurement in accounting—and provide innovative solutions to global challenges. 

In response to the war in Ukraine, for example, ESMT Berlin is offering up to 10 women refugees from Ukraine full-tuition scholarships for its Global Online MBA, in partnership with the BMW Group.  

ESMT is also offering 50 percent tuition scholarships for three displaced Ukrainians for the September intake of its part-time MBA program. 

Elsewhere in ESMT, students in the Master in Management program work on a five-week Social Impact Project during their second year, serving as consultants for global organizations. 

Past projects include plastic upcycling in a Ugandan refugee camp, strategy development for a health awareness campaign in Lebanon, assessing smart tech solutions for Cambodia’s agricultural industry, and creating a publicity strategy for COVID vaccines in Germany itself. 

5. Inspiring New Generations

Nyenrode Business University

When provided with the opportunity to learn, experiment, and grow, social impact initiatives often come from business school students themselves. 

Young & Bold, an organization started by a group of MBA students and professor of international business Désirée van Gorp from Nyenrode Business University, is a digital ecosystem empowering young people to make an impact in their communities. 

During COVID lockdowns in the Netherlands, Young & Bold arranged webinars and virtual workshops for its community, introducing young people to senior executives and discussing topics like how to be bold and resilient. 

Now, Young & Bold is a community partner for the 2022 TCS Sustainathon in Amsterdam, a three-day hackathon focused on solving sustainability challenges around overconsumption and overexploitation. 

The student organization also works with the nonprofit Movement on the Ground, supporting a career mentorship program for residents of refugee camps in Lesvos, Greece.  

Plus, through the nonprofit’s Movement Academy initiative, students are looking to empower others through education, putting together a syllabus and mobilizing volunteers to work as tutors in an effort to provide certified education courses for refugees. 

Innovating to Serve Students and Society

Today’s business students view themselves as a part of the solution to a world plagued by humanitarian crises, environmental devastation, and social injustice. To meet these needs and fulfill their own missions to create societal impact, business schools must continue to deliver learning experiences that endorse a new definition of business success—one that places people at the center. 

Marco De Novellis
Senior Editor, BusinessBecause & GMAC Media
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