Participants in executive MBA programs learn to learn, travel and think globally. But while international residencies take that on Darden School of Business EMBA to locations as far-flung as China, Estonia, Ghana and Cuba, one elective keeps them going – by giving them an up-close look at social issues in their Virginia backyard.
Working with the local Piedmont Community College, the executives – who typically study while working full-time in senior leadership roles – research and create career paths for high school students, helping them gain the qualifications to get jobs with decent salaries.
“Our university is the anchor for the Charlottesville community, where 14 percent of families do not earn enough money to afford the basic necessities of life,” said Toni Irving, the professor who teaches this nonprofit management course to participants who pay $180,000 . tuition and fees. “Our EMBA students understand all too well the relationship between academic degrees and well-paying jobs. They also understand the role that companies play as anchor institutions.”
The course is a second-year elective of the 21-month program at Darden, the business school of the University of Virginia. This year’s class decided to focus on employment in dental hygiene, radiologic technology, computer network support, advanced manufacturing, and telecommunications installation and repair. They then created and delivered a marketing plan to inform youth and parents about the career paths.
Along the way, participants will be able to put into practice their recently honed knowledge of economics, finance, marketing, organizational behavior and data analytics, with immediate implications for the real world.
“What they achieve in just eight weeks is quite phenomenal,” says Prof. Irving. The project has an impact on both its participants and the students, she adds. Some have subsequently convinced their employers to change the way they think about social issues or how they do philanthropy.
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“We spend a lot of time at Darden understanding the more prominent, bigger issues in our economy,” said participant Erin Schneider, Chief Financial Officer for Global Business Services at information services company Wolters Kluwer. “But if we don’t tackle social and societal problems properly, we won’t make a real impact.”
The course was especially relevant to another participant: Liz Brunette, who served 10 years in the U.S. Army, including in Afghanistan, and is now the chief program manager for diversity, equity and inclusion at Amazon. She is also a board member of the Constantino Family Foundation, which provides scholarships and grants to youth in San Francisco.
“The course has had a direct impact on the way I support my family foundation,” says Brunette. “Now I can more clearly assess the purpose and impact of providing scholarships to Bay Area students.”
A growing number of business schools are including social responsibility modules and projects within EMBA programs, giving participants the opportunity to give back while learning responsible leadership. More than 70 percent of MBA students say they expect content on responsible management, ethical leadership, global challenges and on diversity, equality and inclusivity, according to research among more than 1,650 students conducted by educational consultancy Carrington Crisp and EFMD, the European Foundation for Management Development .
Some schools require environmental, social and governance (ESG) courses or projects. HEC Paris reports that it has doubled the ESG content on its EMBA to 29 percent over the past five years. Students are required to complete a project or paper on social impact and professors are encouraged to incorporate ESG cases into their classes.
“Our students are passionate about making an impact, both on and off campus,” said Brad Harris, associate dean for MBA programs at HEC Paris. “It’s about pushing students to ask ‘How will I make a mark on this world?’ and then help them take steps to make this happen.”
Every cohort on the Essec and Mannheim joint EMBA is working on a mandatory social project – past examples include fundraising for children suffering from cancer, ensuring veterans have better access to employment, and campaigning to help save the ‘seagrass meadows’ in the Mediterranean.
Bee Hult International Business SchoolEMBA participants taking the Business and Global Society class, organized into teams, are asked to select one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and challenged to identify a company for which the chosen cause could be a strategic opportunity offer. Projects to date have ranged from encouraging circular economy practices and new energy solutions to improving educational opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (voice education) and developing nutritious foods at lower prices.
“Our EMBA participants learn how every decision we make changes the reality of the situation and has consequences – environmental, social and financial – that can be negative or positive,” says Joanne Lawrence, the professor of practice who teaches the class teaches. “We view the concept of responsibility as a business imperative because business has always been about serving society and the better it does that, the more successful the company becomes.
“Today’s students are increasingly people with a purpose,” she says, who “want to live out their values in their daily work.” “More and more people are recognizing that companies can do well and do well and serve as a foundation for creating positive change.”