Time for a genuine commitment to CSR

Schools should develop leaders who see social projects as fundamental to business success

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Many MBA programmes across the world incorporate a corporate social responsibility element or social project of some kind.

Various projects were introduced in response to the stinging criticism business schools faced after the financial crisis. And while some do a good job of introducing students to social issues and the new-found importance of CSR in the corporate world, many only pay lip service.

Criticisms of business schools have not been entirely unjustified. We have been accused of training graduates primarily for the world of profit, of stimulating greed and of not having done enough to develop truly responsible leaders. While this is changing, we can move quicker – and social projects within business school programmes could be a real catalyst for this transformation.

Every MBA programme should have a real social project as part of its required curriculum. By real, I mean one that is not-for-profit, that directly impacts the lives of the beneficiaries, evokes social change and which has a lasting impact on the community. Too often a school will aim to hit its “CSR quota” by financially supporting a social initiative or project, as opposed to encouraging its students to take on social projects in the community. For students it is one thing to read and learn about CSR, but it is quite another to make the jump to personal social responsibility.

At EMLyon I run a social project supported by a global company. The scheme centres on helping sufferers of rare cancers and providing their embryonic patient associations with the organisational tools and communications skills to improve their institutional capacity and better serve their members.

The MBA students are integral to the project and using their organisational ability, business knowledge and raw brainpower has delivered value and fresh solutions.

The programme not only benefits the cancer associations, however, it also shows the students that business is about real life and real people.

Social projects that make a genuine and lasting difference can broaden the vision and horizons of MBA students, and help them to realise that as part of their professional development they can do good for society and the less fortunate. Such projects can pay dividends in the future; if a student has successfully managed to secure funding for a social project, sourcing investors for that big M&A deal five years down the line will seem easy in comparison.

The key is to find a way to make schools want to include social projects in their programmes. It is no secret that rankings play a big part in how schools structure their courses. Twenty years ago workplace equality was not a big issue – now it is and gender diversity is a key component in many of the top business school rankings. As a result, schools take it seriously. Equally, it is only recently that cultural diversity on an MBA programme became an issue – and yet it too is now an important part of rankings success and schools are once more taking note.

Now is the time to make real social responsibility part of the rankings criteria and, if we achieve this, the next few years could see the development and graduation of the first generation of business leaders who see CSR and responsible leadership as fundamental to business success and not simply an add-on or inconvenience.

It might be a challenge to find a reliable and accurate way to measure the real and lasting impact of social projects at business schools, but surely it is worth the effort.

Rickie Moore is professor in entrepreneurship at EMLyon business school.

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