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Leading Business Schools Increase Focus on Social Entrepreneurship

Social entrepreneurship is becoming a more prevalent facet within the graduate management curriculum at several leading business schools, driven in great part by growing student demand, according to a recent New York Times article.  

“We are putting down the tracks as the train is coming,” Pamela Hartigan, director of the Skoll Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, told the Times regarding that school’s social entrepreneurship offerings. Hartigan estimates that about half of the students at Saïd are interested in issues of long-term social and ethical sustainability, although experts say that students interested in social business still make up only a minority of MBA applicants, according to the Times report.

A study by the sustainable-business networking group Net Impact last year found that 39 percent of respondents would consider working in social enterprise and that 34 percent were considering jobs in the nonprofit sector, though the Times noted that the figures may have been influenced by lower than usual hiring in more traditional post-MBA sectors.

An Economist article earlier this month expressed greater skepticism regarding reports of a trend toward social entrepreneurship within leading MBA programs, suggesting that it’s largely PR hype. “Business schools claim their graduates are less concerned than they once were about earning fabulous salaries,” read the Economist report. “Instead of trumpeting the number of students who get high-paying jobs in finance, they now reel off examples of those who join non-profits or launch social enterprise. This fits the socially-aware image they wish to portray after the financial crisis.”

Nevertheless, that business schools are focused on projecting a more socially-aware image is in itself a shift. At the same time, business schools are increasingly recognizing and responding to the fact that social and business management needs are not actually at odds. “Running a good charity, that runs on sound financial principles, comes from learning some of the tools that business can provide,” Saïd’s Hartigan told the Times. Likewise, traditional business managers today need training in issues like corporate social responsibility.

“So, as business bends to demands for better behavior and nonprofits bend to the need to be more businesslike, business schools are making a two-way bet,” concludes the Times.

Read the New York Times’ article, “Social Responsibility and MBAs.”