Business and Social Change — M.B.A.s seek Social Change

“A few years ago, students came to business school thinking they would get rich right away,” Dartmouth’s Mr. Fairbrothers says. “But now, I think students are trying to focus on doing reasonably well while doing some good.”

This is the concluding paragraph in a Wall Street Journal article entitled: M.B.A.s Seek Social Change:  Enterprises With a Cause Gain Ground on Campus.

There are two reasons given for this trend:
Some administrators say it’s a generational progression of business-school students who have grown up more socially aware. Others say a lack of traditional jobs has spurred an interest in entrepreneurial ventures—and the focus on societal impact is partly a matter of trying to escape the stigma of the “greedy M.B.A.”
What’s more, a for-profit enterprise with a socially responsible backbone is more attractive to nervous investors during economic turbulence than traditional business plans, argues Gregg Fairbrothers, director of Dartmouth College’s Entrepreneurial Network at the Tuck School of Business.

I find myself in the middle of this discussion, in a very personal way.  I present (at least) two new book synopses every month:  one is a business kook for the First Friday Book Synopsis, and the other is a book related to nonprofits/social justice/poverty at the Urban Engagement Book Club for Central Dallas Ministries.  (If you live in the Dallas area, I invite you to attend.  It is the first Thursday of each month.  Read the details here).  So I am constantly reading books that deal with business, and then others that deals with the concerns of the social sector.  And the more I read, the more I sense that these worlds are coming closer together year by year.

Let me recommend a couple of titles that describe the great human problems, and the attempts made by increasingly innovative nonprofits and foundations to alleviate such human need, even while seeking to build business capacity.

The first title we might label as one of many good books that help us understand “the problem” (this one dealing with the working poor in our own country).

The Working PoorThe Working Poor:  (Invisible in America)
New York:  Alfred A. Knopf. David K. Shipler (2004)

Here’s a key quote:
Most of the people I write about in this book do not have the luxury of rage.  They are caught in exhausting struggles.  Their wages do not lift them far enough from poverty to improve their lives, and their lives, in turn hold them back.  The term by which they are usually described, “working poor,” should be an oxymoron.  Nobody who works hard should be poor in America.

And this book might be one that you can put in the category of “solution:”

How to Change the WorldHow to Change the World:  Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas
Oxford University Press. David Bornstein (2004)

Here are a couple of key quotes:

Social entrepreneurs have a profound effect on society, yet their corrective function remains poorly understood and underappreciated.  Although they have always existed, for a variety of reasons their presence is on the rise today.
This book sees social entrepreneurs as transformative forces:  people with new ideas to address major problems who are relentless in the pursuit of their visions, people who simply will not take “no” for an answer, who will not give up until they have spread their ideas as far as they possibly can.

If I learned one thing from writing this book, it is that people who solve problems must somehow first arrive at the belief that they can solve problems.  This belief does not emerge suddenly.  The capacity to cause change grows in an individual over time as small-scale efforts lead gradually to larger ones.  But the process needs a beginning – a story, an example, an early taste of success – something along the way that helps a person form the belief that it is possible to make the world a better place.  Those who act on that belief spread it to others.  They are highly contagious.  Their stories must be told.

I hope you will check out these books.  And I add my voice  to say:  I think that it is an encouraging sign that MBA students are considering the social sector as they consider how to invest the years of their lives.

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