How an MBA Will Prepare You to Change the World Is changing the world just a lofty ambition for business schools, or can an MBA help students turn it into a reality? Here's how the MBA degree has transformed.

By Mary Banks

Key Takeaways

  • Students are being encouraged to join MBA programs with the promise of building sustainable and socially responsible futures.
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"Change the world" — it's a phrase we've heard so often that it's almost becoming meaningless. We hear it from children, politicians and often college applicants without expecting the phrase to be anything more than a placeholder for what could be, but it rarely ever is.

Recently, however, students have begun redefining this cliché, moving from a lofty sentiment to a tangible and actionable business proposition. This generation of students is actively contributing to the very real possibility that they will change the world, and they're doing it with the support of MBA programs.

Related: Does an MBA Make You a Better Entrepreneur?

The transformation of the MBA: A shift in values

Since its inception, the real purpose of business has been profit and creating value for shareholders, and business schools have enticed applicants with promises of high salaries, high-profile positions and personal power. We are seeing a major shift in many of these programs, with a growing emphasis on social responsibility, paying attention to how business decisions impact society. Students are now encouraged to join MBA programs with the promise of building sustainable and socially responsible futures.

In the recent past, MBA programs have prioritized technical prowess over soft skills, maintaining that a quantitative focus trumped a people-centric perspective and emotional intelligence was simply incorporated into the curriculum with no particular emphasis. Currently, many business schools emphasize the importance of communication skills, teamwork and community. Students are encouraged to be creative and innovative, to go beyond just the numbers and question the very foundation of how business is practiced, preparing graduates who will be change agents and disrupters of the status quo.

This must be seen as a drastic shift in perspective; it's no longer simply about shareholder value. HBS succinctly describes this phenomenon: creating "real value for society…creating value before claiming value." This marks a departure to a more altruistic ethos that goes beyond the bottom line and instead, nudges students to be progress-driven and committed to creating meaningful impact without abandoning the profit motive.

Related: Why MBA Makes You a Better Entrepreneur

MBA programs as agents for leadership development

More than ever, political divisions are sharing the campus with MBAs and other students, forcing them to assume a leadership role in reducing political polarization while building inclusive partnerships to tackle climate change, homelessness and many problems threatening our democracy. Remarkably, the 'green' that business schools and their corporate partners have long equated with success, is changing to a 'green' whose implied promise is a planet that will survive.

Colleges and graduate programs have begun integrating ethical leadership, innovative change strategies and social responsibility into their courses, abandoning the casual, one-off treatment of the recent past. MBA students are actively pursuing certificates and degrees in social and environmental sustainability, often with dual degrees in criminal justice and social policy, becoming more socially aware and responsible business leaders. These schools promote globalization through immersion projects in Asia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and beyond. MBA programs are encouraging a broader perspective, influencing students to leave their comfort zone, to witness first-hand the rampant, global inequality that impacts the health and well-being of so many people.

Related: Looking For a College Admissions Consultant? Don't Miss These 3 Key Traits

Shaping tomorrow: The power and promise of Gen Z

As a former Dean of Student Affairs at Columbia University's MBA program, I've seen this shift in priorities emerging. I am optimistic that this generation of college students, MBAs and others will indeed change the world. MBA applicants seek to arm themselves with the skills necessary to effect tumultuous, positive change. One of my students envisions establishing her sustainability firm, while another is committed to addressing climate change globally. These examples represent just a fraction of the many individual students committed to solving some of the world's most pressing issues. We can see the academy's response when the market talks: MIT advises applicants to prove they are ready to use their skills to change the world, and many other programs are no longer in awe of a perfect GMAT.

Related: Why Millennials and Generation Z Love Impact Investing

As Oxford puts it, "solving the world's challenges is no longer the preserve of government," and this generation of students is proving just that, not only in MBA classrooms but across the globe. We all know knowledge is power, and Gen Z is said to be on track to be "the best-educated generation yet," undoubtedly aided by these evolving MBA programs. Their passion also seems to eclipse that of previous generations.

We're seeing these youngsters at the forefront of political activism, as the face of recent climate strikes, chanting Black Lives Matter in powerful unison at protests and fearlessly holding "cease fire" signs outside of parliament. We know change is inevitable when we see women marching in Iran to protest laws that are designed to keep them in their place, defying the status quo despite the clear and present threat of death.

Final thoughts

With these paradigm shifts, business schools embody what Wharton describes as "the place where visionaries, inventors and trailblazers get their start." These students will transform their passions into actionable strategies, empowering them to create new and improved, socially responsible business practices, reinventing the purpose of an MBA education.

Mary Banks

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Director of Admissions Consulting, Quad Education Group

Mary Banks is the Director of Admissions Consulting at Quad Education Group and has worked for 40 years in the higher education industry. Mary has served as the Director of Admissions at the Columbia School of Nursing and Associate Director of Admissions at the Columbia School of Business.

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