Eyes on the future: an eye screening at the Intervida school which serves the Jahuchar Hajaribag slum, Dhaka © FT
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In a recent MBA blog post on FT.com, a Ghanaian student from the European School of Management and Technology, in Germany, was fired up by a comment from Barack Obama, US president: “ …I have come here, to Ghana, for a simple reason: the 21st century will be shaped by what happens not just in Rome or Moscow or Washington, but by what happens in Accra as well …”

The student, Ernest Kwame Gyimah wholeheartedly agrees. He is convinced that there is no better time to implement sustainable businesses in Africa and wants to use his MBA to help achieve this.

He is not alone. A changing mindset among MBA students and professors alike means that social entrepreneurship is making its way to the top of the business school agenda. In particular, students are honing their skills through a plethora of competitions and challenges with social innovation as the theme.

In January 2012 the FT launched its own MBA Challenge in collaboration with Sightsavers, an international charity which works with partners to eliminate avoidable blindness and the FT’s chosen charity for its 2011-2012 appeal.

Groups of students from three continents were set the challenge of developing a business plan to market spectacles to young people in one or more developing country in Africa or Asia. Each team had to include at least one MBA student, but students from other disciplines such as medicine and health could also participate, as demonstrated by the six teams shortlisted for the final stage of the challenge.

Students representing 21 institutions, including 16 business schools have been shortlisted.

“Now people are going to business school with the intention of making a difference,” says Marc Low, an MBA student from the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business in South Africa, who is participating in the FT challenge. Having worked in finance and investment before his MBA, Mr Low applied to business school and has entered the challenge because he wants to broaden his perspective.

His classmate and FT challenge team mate, Bruce Longmore, has a similar mindset. A medical doctor, he has a passion for public health in developing countries and hopes that his business school education will give him a broader understanding of people management. He and Mr Low with five other students, including those from other disciplines, are part of the team 2020 Vision for Change. .

For the final stage of the challenge, each team must submit a comprehensive business plan. As glasses are not yet commonly available in many developing countries, many young people are anxious about wearing them for fear of looking different or being teased. In the majority of cases they stop wearing them, with the consequent negative impact on their education.

“I come from a small town in India so I understand the stigma attached to wearing glasses [that] people still have,” says Pankaj Arora, an MBA student from Cranfield School of Management in the UK.

Mr Arora entered the FT challenge with The Glass Strangers Team because he has been keen to work in the private and public sector since working as a fund raiser for the Red Cross.

“To make change, there has to be a combined effort between NGOs and private companies,” he says.

The winner of the FT MBA Challenge will be announced in October 2012. The remaining teams will be profiled in the FT throughout August.

For more details visit: www.ft.com/mba-challenge

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