Tuesday, April 13, 2004

New MBAs push social responsibility



By Martha Irvine
The Associated Press

EVANSTON, Ill. - As the stereotype goes, business students are supposed to be single-minded in their career goals: making money, more money and still more money.

But don't tell that to Daron Horwitz, who spent his spring break in Iraq - visiting schools that will be helped by a nonprofit group he and a small group of students formed at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.

Experts say they're part of a new breed of MBA student, influenced by everything from corporate scandal to the dot-com bust to concerns over the effects of globalization on everyday people. They also note that the curriculum at business schools across the country has been changing in recent years, placing more emphasis on ethics, nonprofit work and corporate social responsibility.

"Our data suggests that the students are more interested in thinking about the role of business in society ... and, as a generation, are saying, 'We want to do a better job,' " said Nancy McGaw, deputy director of the New York-based Aspen Institute Business and Society Program, which has been tracking the trend.

For Horwitz, the Northwestern student, the inspiration to start a nonprofit came a year ago, after the fall of Baghdad.

"I was watching this historic moment on TV and wanting to make some sort of contribution," said the 29-year-old, who also received a law degree at Northwestern.

Soon after, he was approaching his peers to help him form their organization, Americans Supporting Iraqi Students, or AMSIS.

"Whichever side of the war you're on - whether for or against - it's an easy rallying cry," said Yaser Moustafa, a 28-year-old MBA student whose duties have included raising money for the organization in Arab-American communities.

Other MBA students elsewhere say they, too, want to use their degrees to make a difference.

Stephani Kobayashi Stevenson, for instance, made the decision to attend business school while she was volunteering with the Peace Corps in Papua New Guinea.

"It changed my life to see the devastating effects of globalization, as well as the ramifications of poor business decisions," said Stevenson, who is 28 and a first-year MBA student at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business.

She's also a leader of her school's chapter of Net Impact, a group for MBAs that is dedicated to "using the power of business to create a better world."

Increasingly, business schools are responding.

Northwestern has opened the Center for Business, Government and Society, which is working with the AMSIS students.

Daniel Diermeier is the center's director and a professor at Kellogg.

"More and more students are interested in addressing social problems - but they want to do it in an innovative way. They want to do it in a way that has impact, that is efficient," Diermeier said. "As faculty, it's important for us to be facilitators, to be catalysts for this energy.

"This is the stuff they remember."

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