Why Business Schools Need to Create the Next Generation of Mission Driven Leaders

2018-09-19

By Neeraja Sankar, MBA'19 Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth College

“Number of Fortune 500 CEOs who have an MBA”, “Where 10 of the Most Powerful Fortune 500 CEOs Went to Business School” – statistics that most applicants peruse when making the decision of whether going to business school is right for them. Having spent a few years working a conventional job after an Accounting and Finance undergrad degree, I was itching to pivot into the social impact space – and Business School seemed like the obvious answer to how I would pivot. There are no statistics, however, that indicate the number of CSR leaders with top-ranked MBA degrees, or the number of MBA graduates who are leading revolutionary social enterprises.

While there are several top-ranked MBA graduates who are trailblazers in the social impact space, MBAs and social impact aren’t quite synonymous just yet. This is surprising given that the business landscape is undergoing a revolution, where for-profit companies are actively incorporating “social impact” and “profits with purpose” into their day-to-day business activities – and many individuals leading this revolution are business school graduates, who are passionate about doing well by doing good. Bright-eyed and hopeful about the future, these MBA graduates are exercising their business knowledge and skills with their sights set on the greater good. But why are the number of MBA graduates who choose to do this, still a minority?

Undoubtedly, the huge difference in pay between traditional post-MBA jobs in management consulting and investment banking and social impact jobs is a factor that draws people to the former, especially after two debt-filled years at business school. One would hope that with time, these pay scales would start to converge – in the meantime, can business schools say and do things differently, so students are encouraged to take the road less traveled?

Spending the last 10 weeks with like-minded, impact focused MBA students at Inspiring Capital has given me the opportunity to have discussions about working in the social impact space and the challenges it brings with it – more importantly, it has given me a chance to interact with thought leaders and pioneers in this space, stirring the urge in me to find meaning, purpose and fulfilment in my full-time job.

The summer internship got me thinking; if conversations and discussions outside and inside the classroom revolved around how the private, public and non-profit sectors should interact and how business school students can be at the center of that interaction, would more students be spurred to look for non-traditional jobs? These discussions shouldn’t be exclusive to social impact courses - they should form the core of our curriculum, so students graduate understanding the social impact of business decisions. Business school is a safe space where students are encouraged to take risks, think outside the box, fail and start from scratch all over again. I was able to do just this when through school, I had the opportunity to provide pro-bono consulting services to a non-profit in my community. I would hope business schools start moving in a direction where encouraging students to participate in such initiatives becomes the norm.

As businesses slowly start to move into the hands of conscious and responsible millennials who are mission-driven, educational institutions, especially business schools, need to keep pace and produce graduates who are well equipped to tackle mounting social challenges in areas such as climate change, gender equality, education and the like. Business school must become known as a place where the leaders can learn to think openly, face obstacles pragmatically and make sustainable business decisions for the benefit of generations to come.