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Latin American Business Schools Rise With Social Entrepreneurship

Latin American business schools are drawing more international students and launching more MBA programs with a unique focus on entrepreneurship and social responsibility.

Thu Oct 2 2014

Dean María de Lourdes Dieck Assad’s mission is to make entrepreneurial leaders of her MBA students. A key focus of Mexico’s EGADE Business School is to develop leaders who generate economic and social value for the country’s emerging economy.  

Her school’s vision of integrating economic, cultural and social value is helping to create a new breed of business school.

Latin America has lagged behind the US and Europe in the MBA market but the region’s educators are moving away from a focus on academic and technical skills to one of entrepreneurship, innovation and social responsibility.

It is this unique focus on social entrepreneurship that makes them stand out from the crowd.

“The vision of encouraging an entrepreneurial, innovative culture in Mexico has been part of Tecnológico de Monterrey’s DNA since it was founded,” Dean María says of her business school’s base university.

In the course of doing so, these Latin American schools are lifting Mexico, Brazil, Chile and Argentina – among other countries – onto the world stage.

“Business schools in Latin America, and specifically in Mexico, play a very important role in their regional context,” says Dean María, who is also a Mexican economist.

“Our local know-how and global vision are very valuable both for Latin American companies and for the foreign partners who seek to open new markets in a region that is having more weight in the world,” she says.

Business schools in Latin America are redefining the role of their MBAs and preparing them to face the challenges of mitigating poverty through spurring economic growth in the region.

EGADE as well as Pontificia Universidad Católica of Chile, Brazil’s BSP- Business School Sao Paulo and Argentina’s IAE Business School are gaining international reputations.

But some of the region’s countries are still plagued by economic and social problems. Brazil, the only Latin American country featured in the global MBA rankings, has an economy in technical recession, the budget deficit at its widest in 13 years, and sovereign debt ratings are low. Argentina, another promising MBA market, suffered its second debt default in 13 years in July, while unemployment rose to 7.5% in the second quarter of 2014.

“We are coming out of a world economic crisis,” says Dean María. “Business schools are at a key moment in contributing to preparing leaders and making markets, businesses, and society work better. They must be catalysts in a new global context,” she says.

But she thinks that Latin America’s overall economic growth and particularly the business opportunities in Mexico have consolidated the country’s position as an important business centre.

“A new horizon for Latin American MBAs will be the ability to multiply good examples and best practices,” says Sergio Garcia Bulle, president of Iniciativa de la Education para la Prosperidad, a think tank.

Jose Angel Gutierrez Goutrez, HR director at Daimler Trucks Mexico, a global manufacturer of vehicles, expects MBA graduates to possess a set of skills including external focus, accountability and strategic thinking, while soft skills such as leadership and talent management are also among his top requirements.

He adds that he expects Latin American MBAs to add value across the organisation. Its parent company, Daimler Group, reported operating profit of 268.9 million pesos in the first quarter of last year.

Dean María thinks that there are huge career innovation opportunities in the region’s mobile technology sector – due to “the massive expansion of prepaid mobile phones” – as well as in the biotechnology, natural resource, agriculture and tourism sectors.

The globalization of higher education means that the numbers of international programs in Latin America are on the rise.

“Globalization is changing how businesses are run, and is also forcing business schools to evaluate their fundamental role in preparing the next generation of business leaders,” says Dean María.

She points out that in 2002, only four Latin American business schools were internationally accredited, but today there are 17. EGADE is accredited by AACSB, AMBA and EQUIS – a rarity.

Top full-time Latin American MBA students have a tendency to study abroad and MBA courses in the region still largely attract local, part-time students. But an increase in the provision of global programs is drawing more international students to the region.

Coppead, the Brazilian business school, increased its international MBA student percentage by 6% to 27% last year, according to rankings data.

These foreign students are attracted to the unique focus on entrepreneurship, social responsibly and innovation which has become commonplace at Latin America’s top business schools.

Social impact and entrepreneurship has been gaining ground at schools in more developed education markets. Many US and European business schools have reported increases in students wanting social impact summer internships, while many graduates are ditching corporate careers to launch start-ups.

But in Latin America, innovation and creativity are visible not only across the MBA curriculum but also in modes of delivery – there is an emphasis on experiential learning, and utilizing new media and technology to facilitate the learning process.

EGADE has used tech to develop a blended classroom experience, hybrid programs and mobile learning apps, according to Dean María.

She says that international students have been enriching classroom debates and there are now more than 30 countries represented in EGADE’s MBA cohort. She adds that these students seek to learn a practical approach to the way businesses develop in Latin America.

Central to attracting more foreign MBAs is a diverse faculty. “The selection process of our international professors is highly competitive,” says Dean María.

EGADE is able to draw visiting professors from the business schools which it is partnered with.

But Latin American schools have also utilized globalization opportunities to develop relationships with business schools outside their traditional focus areas – Spain and Portugal.

Instead, they are looking to new countries and territories that are economically integrated with Latin America – typically China, the US and Europe.

The Association of MBA’s recent Latin America conference attracted over 60 delegates from 25 business schools across the world. Deans and directors from schools in Brazil, Chile, Peru, Uruguay, Colombia and Argentina, among others, gathered in Cancun, Mexico in late August.

AMBA predicts that even more opportunities lie in the field of executive education, where business schools can help connect executives from one region with their Latin American counterparts.

The biggest draw for both executives and entrepreneurs, however, is improving both the region’s economic and social climate.

“The role of business schools in general – and especially in Latin America and Mexico – is to provide a vision and education that will bring about a careful balance between a global perspective and sensitivity for the conditions and the economic, social, and local cultural context,” says Dean María.