Posted by: AC | May 14, 2009

MBAs & The Greater Good

from May 11, 2009

I read an article on QS MBA a few weeks back detailing the experiences of a couple MBA graduates and their pursuit of meaning AND money.  Often times MBA students and graduates (ahem, and applicants) are forced to choose between of traditional money-making business roles and not-so-money-making-but-fulfilling life goals.  And so I pose the following question:  How can we reconcile the business savvy and an MBA degree with really helping people and contributing to “the greater good”?

In thearticle, one MBA grad states “I am willing to accept a lower salary …  A lighter wallet is worth the satisfaction of helping others.”  At first glance it seems that the two are mutually exclusive: we either make money, or we forgo monetary success to help people.

The next rational argument is that, well, we can make money and volunteer in our spare time or donate to charities with all the money we make.  True.  Necessary.  For example, the investment management company where I work: we have a separate department devoted to our charitable donations, and company-sponsored volunteer days.  Even at a firm as balanced and as socially-conscious as this one, the two activities (making money and helping people) remain completely separate.  We do one, then the other.  The separation is so complete, it is symbolized by a changing of clothes: the business suit to make money and the jeans and t-shirt to ‘get our hands dirty’ and help people.

What if it is possible to synthesize the two and create profitable businesses with social or environmental  missions?  Like Grameen Bank or Ashoka Fellows, is social entrepreneurship the answer to this dilemma?   I believe it is, and that it will be creative business leaders that pioneer the solutions to world social and environmental crises.  Perhaps then it is the challenge of MBA programs to create leadership that is able to balance the two, without having to forgo one or the other.

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