ESADE On A Mission To Turn Business Leaders Into Custodians Of Profit, People, Planet

Growing demand for schools to have positive impact on society

ESADE is one of a bevy of elite business schools trying to turn the world’s future business leaders into custodians of profit, people and planet.

As businesses begin to place social and environmental issues at the heart of their organizations, there is a growing need for business schools to produce talent to lead initiatives that have a positive impact on society. And for MBA and other graduates sweet on the triple-bottom-line, jobs abound.

In this interview with BusinessBecause Ignasi Carreras, director of ESADE Business School’s Institute for Social Innovation, says that companies expect graduates to get to grips with big societal challenges, such as the rapidly aging global population or climate change.

Before joining ESADE, Ignasi served nearly two decades as director general of Oxfam Intermón, a branch of the globally renowned aid and development charity.

We hear constantly that business students are keen to “have an impact” on society. Is this something you notice?

We have been working intensively at ESADE over the past 10 years to help our students understand how companies and non-profit organisations can have a positive impact on society.

There is much more interest in social companies and social entrepreneurship. When I arrived here at ESADE there were two big avenues — non-profits and NGOs. Now, all of those people who are thinking about entrepreneurship are saying why not social entrepreneurship?

What does ESADE offer students who want to impact society?

We have two different kinds of programs — those specialized on people who want a positive impact, such as executive education programs for non-profit leaders, or programs for people who want to set-up a social impact company, or programs on CSR (corporate social responsibility). On the other side, we have programs in our general degrees or master’s where we tell our students to expose themselves to this kind of activity.

Do business schools have a responsibility to champion both profit and purpose?

I totally agree with that statement. Schools are preparing senior managers and entrepreneurs and, if you want to be a responsible business school, you need to introduce responsibility to them.

The big difficulty is that for some schools this is not their core. They are doing business as usual, with some CSR [on the side].

Business schools are not easy to change, as professors have their own ideas and try to hold on to their own way of doing things. For me the key issue is leadership of a business school.

Is there a commercial advantage to social innovation?

That’s a difficult one. Social innovation and responsibility have traditionally been pursued by companies that can cope with short-term [financial] issues.

For some years companies have been trying to protect their brand and reduce their risk, and managing things in a way that makes profit with respect for human rights and the environment. The second step has been to try to link CSR with efficiency. The next step will be trying to link innovation with social responsibly; it provides companies the opportunity to have new products that are both cheaper and better for the environment.

Are there job opportunities for MBAs who want to make an impact?

Until now there have been opportunities with a minority of companies. But the positive news is that these are companies that are becoming a reference for others, such as Nike, Telefonica, or British Telecom. They are very influential.

They expect that people coming out of business schools are very aware of the main trends of the future, and they expect that they want to connect companies with big challenges, for example aging populations or climate change.

With governments shrinking public expenditure, is there a greater need for the private sector to solve social and environmental challenges?

The big challenges will not be solved only by government or non-profits or the UN. We need alliances. And when we have good alliances, innovation arrives earlier, and we can have lasting solutions.

Scandals and notions of corporate greed still swirl in the media. What challenges are there in ensuring impact is a meaningful part of the business world rather than a buzzword?

I go back to leadership. Is responsibility in the culture of the organization or not? When companies have leadership that believe in social responsibility, this runs through the culture of the company.

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