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Social Impact Manager Shares 3 Ways An MBA Makes You A Responsible Leader

Samantha Barlow, now a project manager tackling racial bias in policing outcomes, shares three ways her MBA equipped her to become responsible leader

After her MBA at ESMT Berlin, Samantha Barlow completed the school’s Responsible Leaders Fellowship. This took her to Ghana, where she spent six months providing strategic advice throughout the launch of the African Health Innovation Centre with Impact Hub Accra.

Now, Samantha works as a program manager for the Center for Policing Equity (CPE), a think tank established to help combat racial bias in the ways US police interact with the community.

When looking for the best business school, Samantha advises you to research beyond the rankings, salary averages, and the typical career paths of each institution, and find which business school is best aligned with your social values.

Samantha feels her MBA prepared her to become a more responsible leader in three main ways.


1. An MBA gives you diverse perspectives

From group projects to classroom discussion, hearing from a different perspective is a great way to develop your business philosophy, and remain mindful of how your future business decisions will affect different groups in society.

As the MBA world becomes increasingly diverse, business schools provide a great opportunity to meet people who have very different experiences and backgrounds from your own.

“This move of MBA programs emphasising ethical leadership, corporate accountability, and responsible investing, is really a product of who’s getting an MBA,” says Samantha, explaining how a large part of this wider shift has been driven by typically underrepresented students coming through.

“At ESMT we had 33 nationalities represented in our class of 67 students,” she continues. “It was this hyper international environment.” Diversity across industry backgrounds at ESMT was just as varied, giving Samantha a real insight into sectors beyond her own.

This greater sense of awareness instilled through the ESMT has boosted Samantha’s communication skills and adaptability to different context and cultures, helping prepare her to lead with an informed and committed sense of social responsibility.


2. You'll get experience in social impact on a global scale

With the Responsible Leaders Fellowship focussing on developing countries, ESMT provides MBAs with a unique chance to gain experience in social impact work in different countries.

For Samantha, this meant she developed a sense of cultural awareness and sensitivity that she feels is crucial to effective and responsible leadership.  

“Even when you have a social impact goal in mind, it’s important to be sensitive to the specific cultural context when working in a different country, and the global history leading up to the problems you’re there to solve” says Samantha.

“It was in Accra, on the Responsible Leaders Fellowship, where I learned to see my role as an outsider,” she adds. Samantha approached her work on the fellowship as a means of empowering local champions as opposed to centering herself, as is the key to successful leadership.  


READ: 4 Ways An MBA Can Help You Navigate Uncertainty

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3. An MBA will sharpen your business acumen

Before her MBA at ESMT, Samantha had a background in social enterprise, both abroad and in her native US. In Colorado, she lobbied for legislation benefiting low-income Coloradans, before becoming vice president and marketing director for the Kadi Energy Company, a startup creating energy solutions in West Africa.

On the ESMT Responsible Leaders Fellowship, MBAs take on a suitable role within a non-profit in a developing region, bringing in their business expertise to projects which badly need it.

“There's no longer a strict division between the for profit sector, the public sector, and the nonprofit sector,” says Samantha. “Even with the experience I had before business school, I still felt I needed to build up the hard business skills that you get from an MBA.”

Ultimately, an MBA is there to train you to be a good manager. Whatever social cause you want to work towards in business, the nuts and bolts of leadership, from drawing up budgets, proposing deals, and supervising teams, remain the same.

By providing one on one personal development coaching alongside this strategic management training, ESMT MBAs like Samantha are able to discover their own social impact goals, whilst also learning the hard skills needed to help them achieve them.


What’s next for Samantha?

In her current role with the CPE, Samantha uses the skills she learned on her MBA every day when leading several programs, coordinating stakeholders, raising funds and assessing risks.

"She explains how the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, sparked by the murder of George Floyd by US police, have thrown the importance of the CPE’s work into the spotlight. "CPE was committed to advancing racial equity long before 2020, and while our work has not changed in its essence, the multiple devastating events in the past months have translated into more funding and upscaling of our work," she explains.

Being able to leverage data to measure bias with topics as emotional and deep as racism in America, can bring in a new understanding of what the problems are, and what changes can be made to solve them.

On the ground experience, cultural sensitivity, and hard business skills learned on her MBA have prepared Samantha to provide real value in terms of progressing this goal.

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