Is Your Business School Really That International?

Exchange programs, class diversity and even foreign campuses make for a superficial experience says head of Global Business School Network

While business schools talk a lot about diversity and a global experience, most of them don’t really provide it, says Guy Pfeffermann who heads a network of business schools in developed and emerging countries.

“Every business school in the world claims to be international,” says Pfeffermann, who is founder and CEO of the Global Business School Network (GBSN), based in Washington DC.

However, he says, this just isn’t true. Meeting targets for the number of countries represented in each MBA class or sending students abroad on short consulting projects or exchanges only has a superficial impact. Recent research by the AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools) backs up this conclusion.

Students are mostly exposed to US and Europe-focused case studies and business practices. Even if they’re studying at a campus in Singapore or Dubai, they’re following the same curriculum as their peers in New York, London or Paris. Their ability to work with clients and competitors on the ground in an emerging country is limited.

What's needed is something akin to a "mini Peace Corps experience", with students on the ground for longer and doing business with the locals. 


Guy Pfeffermann

Over the last 15 years, over 40 per cent of growth in world GDP has been in emerging countries points out Pfeffermann, a former chief economist of the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation . “There’s a disconnect between where the jobs will be and what business schools are offering”.

There’s an “enormous need” to develop business schools in emerging markets. Places that are growing rapidly and lack business education need programs that are affordable and relevant to businessmen and women in cities like Lagos, Karachi and Accra.

The GBSN facilitates cross border collaborative projects between developed and emerging market business schools to do just that. For example, Pfeffermann describes how a handful of business case writers from leading business schools connected with business faculty in Kenya to write some local cases. “Before 2005 there were hardly any Kenyan cases and today there are about 200 cases”, says Pfeffermann.

Some of the cases focused on entrepreneurial ventures within Nairobi’s slums. They ranged from running an illegal bar in the centre of a huge slum; to branding challenges for kiosks selling standard items such as pens, gum and razor blades; to Petty Errands, a courier firm set up by an unemployed man who decided to charge for running errands.

This kind of collaboration helps top world business schools as much as the schools in emerging markets, a point noted in the AACSB report too, which describes such collaboration as “the most underutilized mechanism with the greatest potential”. Faculty and students are taken out of their comfort zone to the front lines of business in emerging markets.”

Pfeffermann thinks the corporate world has a big role to play in boosting emerging market business schools, and that it stands to gain a lot by doing so.

“I’m not convinced that the corporate world has woken up to the fact that there are local business schools in emerging markets that can really help them,” he says

For a multinational corporation, endowing an academic chair at such an emerging market school would be a relatively low-cost way to build a relationship and tap into a pool of local management talent, who won’t expect nearly the remuneration as their expat counterparts.

Much of the work the GBSN does is towards building partnerships between 46 business schools around the world and between corporates and business schools in key emerging countries. Its activities range from connecting business schools, corporations, NGOS, and other partners around the world for networking and collaboration, holding networking events for faculty worldwide through their annual conferences and other events, linking business school students with projects in emerging markets, and helping emerging market business schools access international expertise for institutional development.

So are there any international b-schools that are doing a good job of preparing students for the globalized business work? Echoing the AACSB, Pfeffermann mentions France’s ESSEC, which requires fluency in four languages in order to enter their MBA program. “It’s easier for Europeans,” adds Pfeffermann, “They’re used to speaking languages and living abroad”.

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