Book Review: Guide to Socially Responsible MBA Program

The Aspen Institute Guide to Socially Responsible MBA Programs: 2008-2009 (Paperback)

Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
ISBN-10: 157675765X

Reviewed by Sally Rubenstone

As I thumbed through The Aspen Institute Guide to Socially Responsible MBA Programs: 2008-2009, I wondered how many business school aspirants put social responsibility at the top of their grad-school must-have list. So I decided to ask by posting a query on the College Confidential discussion forum. The thread netted two responses in three days, which might, in itself, be telling. Moreover, both responses claimed that social responsibility was at the bottom of the pecking order.

Perhaps this says more about who spends time on CC than about the globally-aware MBA-aspirant head-count. Conceivably, socially-conscious students are out there changing the world, not surfing the “Net”. As I child of the Sixties, I certainly hope that someone feels that socially-conscious business practices aren’t oxymoronic, and that it’s not only possible but also critical to mesh the teaching of business practices with the understanding of their impact on global welfare.

For those who share my hope, this book does a good job of showing how a range of international MBA programs meet this objective. Its aim is to provide “an overview of how global MBA programs bring social impact management into their curricular and extracurricular programs. Social impact management, which includes environmental, ethical, and corporate governance issues, is the field of inquiry at the intersection of business needs and wider societal concerns that reflects their complex interdependency. Without an understanding of this interdependency, neither business nor the society in which it operates can thrive.”

This guide provides easy-to-follow, well-organized profiles of more than 100 full-time, MBA programs in 20 countries. The usual suspects are all there (Ivies, MIT, Michigan, NYU, Stanford, Duke …) along with a few I’d never heard of (and I couldn’t nail the host country without peeking)… e.g., RSM Erasmus (Netherlands) and Universidad de Los Andes (Colombia).

Each profile offers “A Quick Look” at the number of core and elective courses that cover social impact and/or environmental management issues. This section also tracks which programs offer relevant clubs, speakers, etc.

The “What the school says” capsules at the start of each profile are typically generic. Readers are also directed to a Website (www.BeyondGreyPinstripes.org) for more details. (Having snoozed through the capsules, I wasn’t exactly enticed into looking further, but, feeling duty-bound, I did, and the longer statements are indeed somewhat more valuable than the useless summaries).

Most helpful are the “Notable Features,” which highlight classes, electives, institutes and centers, and even clubs that focus on socially responsible topics and allow readers to distinguish what’s special at each institution. Course topics that especially caught my eye included, “Entrepreneurship in Education Reform” at Harvard, “Sustainable Enterprise: Opportunities at the Base of the Pyramid” at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa, and one cryptically called “Ten Years Hence” at Notre Dame.

If you’re an appendix aficionado, you’ll like the listing at the back of the book that reports “Faculty Pioneer Award Winners” so you can find the hot profs. There’s also a listing of MBA Concentrations, so you’ll know where to look for “Values-Based Leadership (U. Denver) or “Global Supply Chain Management” (UNC Chapel Hill).

College Confidential members, however, are sure to complain about the lack of admissions data in the school profiles. There are no average GPAs or test scores; no percentages of applicants accepted. So, if you’re looking for information about programs that promote areas like business ethics, sustainability, non-profit management, and social policy, then this book is a great place to start. But, if your primary concern is the predictable “What are my chances?” then you will have to look elsewhere.