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Social Enterprise: Greed No Longer Good As Millennial MBAs Sacrifice Salary For Society

Students place more value on fulfilment, entrepreneurship and social impact

Sun Dec 6 2015

Fadzi Whande started volunteering for the United Nations and other non-profits while still in high school. “The sense of fulfilment drives me,” says the UWA MBA student and equity transformation specialist at Pacific Educational Group, which helps fight institutional racism in schools.

Fadzi, a black woman with a long career across Australia’s public sector, believes business must be in touch with social, environmental and financial goals to be successful. She illustrates the way this generation of MBA students — made up mostly of “millennials” — is placing more value on fulfilment, entrepreneurship and social impact.

“Today’s business schools are being called to act from the very people we’re training as leaders,” says Edward Snyder, dean of the Yale School of Management. “It’s incumbent upon us to prepare our students for the world, not of [the] last generation but the next.”

A new global study of more than 3,700 students at 29 top business schools by Yale University found that 44% are willing to accept a lower salary to work for a company with better environmental practices.

Kirk Bullock used to work in the glitz and glamour of Hollywood for sbe Group, the luxury hospitality company. Now the ESADE MBA student runs lagbt.com, an LA-based start-up offering personal concierge and travel experiences to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

“With business having increasing impact across the globe, the ability for managers at all levels to understand the impact of their decisions is imperative,” says the vice president of the ESADE Net Impact Club.

Jeff Reid, founding director of the Georgetown Entrepreneurship Initiative, says students are interested in finding a way to use their MBA skills to solve problems in the world.

Peter Bakker, CEO of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, puts this shift down to the role of business in society changing.

“Business leaders need to understand the complex nature of sustainability issues and integrate solutions for social and environmental challenges with the need for good financial results,” he says.


A survey of 1,500 MBA students this year by Bain & Company found that 66% of women and 59% of men plan to put having a positive impact on society ahead of financial gains.

“They have come of age in a time of heightened competition and reduced opportunities in the marketplace,” says Wally Hopp, professor and senior associate dean for faculty and research at Michigan Ross School. “What they’re looking for is purpose, but in a different way. They’re looking for jobs that matter.”

The St Gallen Symposium, a global conference for leaders and market research group GfK Verein surveyed more than 1,000 millennials from 100 countries. Around half said work with positive social impact is a top-three criterion for measuring career success. Just 14% cited having a fat salary.

“Millennials are seeking meaning,” says Ben Mangan, executive director of UC Berkeley Haas School’s Center for Social Sector Leadership. “The shift is part of a much broader desire among business students to achieve social impact through whatever they spend their time on.”

One-fifth of the students in the Yale University survey expressed an unwillingness to work for companies with bad environmental practices — regardless of salary considerations.

“We are really seeing a shift in what MBAs are looking for and how companies must market to MBAs to get the best and the brightest candidates,” says Erin Worsham, director of social entrepreneurship at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business.

Daniela Papi-Thornton, deputy director of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford Saïd, says companies should offer graduates the opportunity to lead impact — “not ‘CSR’ or managing their foundation, but redesigning the businesses from the inside so that social and environmental responsibility is embedded in the organization”.