There is one bright light amidst the darkness of our current political nightmare; many of us have begun to think more critically about both our complicity in the state of the world and our individual and collective power to affect change.
You may not see it day-to-day on the judicial, legislative, and—most of all—executive levels, but within communities, we’ve started to see that righteous indignation spark meaningful discourse on a massive scale.
Although business schools are in a unique position to train people to help harness and magnify the potency of their communities, the reality is that many MBAs don’t. Who can blame them? Those degrees don’t come cheap; when it comes to median salaries, the sad truth is that activism pales in comparison to consulting.
Sticker shock aside, there’s a deeper issue about the nature of business school that HBS Guru Sanford Kreisberg identifies when it comes to why few MBAs are equipped to affect change: “Business schools teach you how to get along, not how to change things; how to fit in, and not how to stand out.”
So, how can MBAs with a yearning to change the system from the inside out actually put their degrees to use when business school seems designed to do just the opposite?
For starters, there are some worthwhile programs that cater to MBAs who want to work in policy. One prime example is the three-year joint MBA/MPP degree, born of a partnership between Harvard Business School and the Kennedy School of Government.
Its mission is “to develop leader who will assume positions of influence spanning business, government, and nonprofit organizations, through which they will contribute significantly to the well-being of society.”
Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business and McCourt School of Public Policy offer a three-year MBA/MPP degree, with students profiting from the university’s close links with government organizations in Washington DC.
Karen Marks of North Star Admissions takes a slightly more optimistic stance on the efficacy of MBAs in the ‘House of Cards’ political era: “American business schools teach students to think fluidly and empathetically. They also teach students to function under ambiguous circumstances, and to leverage key interpersonal skills like diplomacy and negotiations,” she says.
Break Into Tech’s Jeremy Schifeling points out how “MBAs are [successful] case study examples of how to build policy power through your own constituency—not politicians.”
The key? According to Jeremy, it’s all about attracting and retaining happy customers—a lot of them. “Airbnb and Uber were both able to influence local policy without aligning with a single party or political player; but instead, by building a massive base of satisfied customers they could rally to their cause,” he says.
Journalist Emma Dumain, who covers the South Carolina Congressional delegation and state news from Capitol Hill and Washington, DC for McClatchy, draws distinct parallels between government and the politics of business in terms of their “weird cliques, social codes and set of professional standards.”
Working in corporate America, particularly for MBAs with sizable social justice streaks, can often be a gruesome affair—one where ethics and profits are antithetical propositions. The same certainly goes for Capitol Hill where “it can be demoralizing to work for a boss whose value system doesn't always align with yours [and] agonizing to work on a bill that may never become law.”
Emma offers advice to idealistic MBAs who hope to work in government and policy:
“If you care about the work, accept that there will be frustrations and decide whether they outweigh the rewards. A political aide to a member of Congress told me once you'll never work for a lawmaker whose positions you agree with all the time.
“The trick is to find at least a few things that mean as much to you as they do to him or her, and cling to those. That will help you keep your sense of self when it doesn't always seem easy to do so.”