An MBA and Social Entrepreneurship- Mutually Exclusive?

I feel like I am at that point in life where I have to decide what field I want to go into. The question I return to time and time again is: How do I maximize having a positive impact while maintaining a comfortable lifestyle. Is it possible to do both?

A recent article by Thomas N. Gladwin at the University of Michigan highlights this apparent dichotomy, between having a positive impact and achieving a certain financial status, as one that is presented by our systems of higher education. Gladwin concludes that MBAs are unprepared for a morally complex future.

It seems that while focusing on development (ie. making money) MBA programs tend to lose perspective on human rights. The potential for utilizing business skills to address social problems, like poverty, is often left untapped. Gladwin notes that a lack of attention to social and moral obligations can be detrimental to a company:

Companies operating globally face tremendous risks if they sidestep the observance of human rights. Conversely, there are enormous opportunities to be uncovered for companies that include poverty alleviation and other social needs within their growth strategies.

Increasingly, it seems that all major companies have developed CSR arms- armed with resources and a mission to “do good.” These branches seem to defy the perception that positive impact and making a profit are mutually exclusive. Arguably, intrapreneurs have the most power for good- they have access to resources that those working from the outside do not.

Why, and how, then has this connection between increasing business and increasing positive impact not been translated to MBA programs? Gladwin presents three primary reasons for this:

1. An ambivalence from the business world, seen in their reluctance to act on global human rights initiatives.

2. Emphasis on eco-efficiency without humanity, seen in the rush to go green without understanding social consequences.

3. The drive to transform management into a “value-free” science, based on market fundamentalism and shareholder value maximization, which prioritizes efficiency over equity.

What this really means is that because businesses do not appear to be fully committed to the social dimensions of sustainability, neither will business programs.

Gladwin goes on to state that:

In an interdependent world confronting growing environmental scarcity and human deprivation, we will need business leaders who can create social value without increasing energy and material throughput; who can cope with the complexity of interconnected social, ecological, economic systems; who can adapt in the face of uncertainty; who can bring about global change through collaborative and disruptive innovation and who can master multiple alternative futures.

I would venture to say that this new generation of business leaders is being created today, although it is probably not a result of any particular MBA program. Rather, it is the result of increased global awareness and the increasing influence of those members of the workforce that have proven that success in the business world does not have to be mutually exclusive of positive impact. These individuals range from Bill Gates to our very own Ashoka Fellows, such as William Foote and Atsumasa Tochisako, who show that businesses can be sustainable, even profitable, and rest on the ideal of “changing the world for the better.”

In the arena of higher education, Ashoka is working to bridge the gap between positive impact and profitable business models through the Changemaker Campus Initiative. Click here for more information.

This article was originally published on June 14, 2010
Related TopicsBusiness & Social Enterprise, Social Entrepreneurship

Joelle Murphy
US Team Summer Associate

More For You