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Social Impact and the MBA: Business Schools Where the Two Are Synonymous

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“Oh, God yes!” replied Stacey Rudnick when asked if interest in social impact is on the rise among the MBA students she counsels. Rudnick leads career services for the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin, but her emphatic reply is a standard refrain at any number of leading business schools when asked the same question.

Student participation in McComb’s annual “Business for Good Summit,” held each February, has been steadily growing, Rudnick shares, as has Net Impact chapter membership and overall career interest in social impact. “And the higher interest is not just in non-profits,” Rudnick says. “Students want to know ‘What is the ethos of the business that I am considering being a part of? Is this a company that is doing good in the world? Can I feel good about wearing its logo and its brand as a reflection of my brand?’”

The idea that the MBA can prepare you not only to do well but also to do good has taken hold around the world in a big way. Net Impact, a nonprofit membership organization formed in 1993 by a small group of socially minded MBA students in San Francisco has ballooned into an international organization of more than 80,000 members, boasting more than 300 chapters spread across business schools, undergraduate institutions and corporations. Net Impact’s 2014 “Business as UNusual” social and environmental guide to graduate programs found that 88 percent of MBA students surveyed cited learning about social and environmental business as a priority. Sixty-seven percent agreed or strongly agreed that their MBA programs offered adequate career preparation resources for impact job seekers.

social impact and the MBA
Source: Net Impact 2014 Business as UNusual Report

Why This Increased Demand for Social Impact Focus Among MBAs?
Part of it is generational. As McCombs’ Rudnick points out, “You have a generation of students that have been taught from a very young age about consciousness of the environment, energy savings, recycling, taking care of the planet, health and wellness as part of day-to-day living,” she says. “These students want the same values at the companies where they work.”

According to Net Impact, many of those students would take a 15 percent pay cut to work for an organization whose values align with their own (87 percent); to have a job that seeks to make a difference in the world either socially or environmentally (83 percent); or to work for a company committed to corporate and environmental responsibility (71 percent).

social impact and the MBA
Tuck Professor Anant Sundaram

And the focus on sustainability and social impact is expected to grow more and more mainstream—not only among MBA students but also at the companies they seek to work for. Tuck School of Business Finance Professor Anant Sundaram draws more students each year who want to take his class on business and climate change, which he says only makes sense. “At many of the companies these students are targeting for post-MBA jobs, sustainability has become very central to how they operate,” he says. “We approach it in a very hard-nosed way—if you are the CEO of a shareholder-value maximizing company, should you care about climate change and, if so, why?”

Go into any major company and you will now find a chief sustainability officer, Sundaram tells his students. “Not only is this a very senior manager in a policy-making role, but it’s also a new potential career path,” he says. “It’s exciting, and it has all happened in the last decade in a significant way.”

Schools Leading the Social Impact Charge
So if student demand is high and the need for talent on the part of potential employers is poised for growth, which schools are best answering the call for an MBA education firmly rooted in the tenets of social impact? We don’t claim to offer a comprehensive ranking of the best schools for social impact. (Net Impact devotes significant resources toward assessing the merits of different MBA programs both in terms of sustainability and social impact and tells us the next “Business as UNusual” report is due out in fall 2016.) In the meantime, over the course of two articles, we’re taking a deeper dive into some of what’s on offer at a few of the schools doing it best.