Business schools are increasingly thinking about how to produce graduates that aren’t just knowledgeable in business concepts, but know how to do business ethically and sustainably.
According to BSR, a global nonprofit business network, climate change, technology, and structural economic change are the three biggest factors impacting businesses in the 21st century, and organizations and managers will have to learn to adapt if they’re going to survive.
One business school which has already been tackling these issues is the School of Inspired Leadership (SOIL) in Gurgaon, India, which has been admitting students to its leadership programs since 2008.
“SOIL is not simply a business school,” explains Dr. Athindra Nath Bhattacharya, professor of marketing at SOIL, “it is also a movement that tries to redefine the landscape of higher education.”
To achieve this revolution in graduate business education in India, SOIL takes a unique approach to the teaching of business concepts, blending traditional business subjects with spiritual methods to “create inspired leaders who will have not just business competence but a very strong character as well,” as Athindra states.
SOIL offers two one-year business programs, a Postgraduate Program (PGP) in Business Leadership, and a Postgraduate Program in HR Leadership—equivalent to SOIL MBA degrees—both of which aim to equip students with the skills necessary to work in the modern, fast-changing business world.
But the school also aims to get students thinking about their own strengths, beliefs, and aspirations as future leaders—and they use tools like mindfulness to push their students to be more reflective.
“While other business schools simply focus on competence building, SOIL has many other courses which will help an individual to understand what their real potential is,” Athindra explains. “So we designed a curriculum that also has elements of character building, and helping our students understand what they are really good at.
“Ultimately, we want people to be inspired from within to take responsibility for what is happening not only within an organization, but outside in the community.
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Building a sustainable future
A core part of SOIL’s ethos is reflecting on the impact that businesses have beyond shareholders—that is, their impact on communities both local and abroad, as well as the natural world.
On their one-year leadership programs, all MBA students at the School of Inspired Leadership take part in the Social Innovation Program (SIP), an initiative which gets students to volunteer for an NGO for one day a week for a whole 10 months.
SOIL is partnered with a consortium of over 30 NGOs, who all come to the school and give presentations about their work to SOIL’s students. After this, students must choose “the cause which is closest to their heart,” Athindra says.
“Many other business schools across the world have a program where students are sent to work with social organizations for, for example, one month at a stretch and then they come back,” Athindra continues. “Whereas we wanted to make this a regular practice in their life—namely, that one day a week we should give back to the society.
“Management education should not just be about creating more dividends, but also about creating more impact. Once our students leave SOIL, many of them continue this practice in their lives.”
MBA graduate Hitesh Kataria (pictured) has seen first hand how the practice can make a difference in your business career.
Hitesh graduated from SOIL almost ten years ago, in 2010, from their Postgraduate Diploma in HR Leadership. Before starting at SOIL, Hitesh worked in the financial sector, but now he’s a sustainable strategy manager for Mahindra & Mahindra, a multinational car manufacturing corporation.
“The Social Innovation Program really created a perspective in me that it’s not about gain or making profits, it’s really about how you work with people in the grassroots and how you see small changes happening in a big way,” Hitesh says.
“I’m in the role I’m in right now because of my time at SOIL,” he adds. “For its longevity, it’s so important that an organization becomes an ethical organization, and the seeds of this fundamental concept were planted to me when I was at SOIL.”
Bringing values to business
Within its curriculum, SOIL aims to cultivate five key values: mindfulness, ethics, compassion, sustainability, and diversity. These values are present in all the classes students take at SOIL, even within traditional business modules such as marketing or finance.
“When I teach marketing,” Athindra explains, “I say that marketing is primarily related to compassion. If you have unconditional love for your customers, you will try to solve their problems.
“Similarly, when we talk of finance, we say that if you’re taking shareholders’ money you have to be ethical in the manner in which you’re using it. So, when we teach these functional subjects, we see to it that some of these values are also taught to the students.”
In his professional experience, MBA graduate Hitesh has experienced the different approaches to business from various business schools—but so far, hasn’t seen anybody approaching leadership the same way SOIL does.
“When I talk to colleagues, who from some of the best colleges, they are not having these same discussions about how to do good in society, or about who you really are,” he recalls. “Every day, in every decision which I make, I make reference to these discussions which happened 10 years ago.
“When a human being develops a fundamental point about being compassionate, then I think whatever decisions that person will take will always be in the best interests.”
Athindra says that this perspective, when put into practice, can drive change. “The entire vision of the School of Inspired Leadership is to create inspired leaders who will take the responsibility of ensuring they will leave back more than what we have now,” he says.
“When use your business competence with the right value systems, this will actually lead to a more sustainable world.”