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Transforming Business Education through Social Innovation

Undergraduate | Apr 25, 2019 |

What is the future of the intersection of business education and social innovation?

That was the topic of discussion when the Gabelli School of Business recently welcomed an impressive list of panelists working to transform business research and pedagogy through social innovation.

From a Nobel Peace Prize winner, to the secretary of Higher Education for the Society of Jesus, an associate dean of business and impact from the University of Michigan, and the former head of Schwab Foundation at the World Economic Forum, these great minds imparted wisdom to Gabelli students on how they can strive to make an impact on the world through social innovation with their degree.

Jerry White, a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997, drove home the message that attaining a business degree does not mean that students have to stay on a linear path: “You have to be literate not just with your MBA or BA, but cross sector.”

White, who lost his leg due to a land mine explosion in 1984, is the CEO of Global Impact Strategies Inc. He recommended sampling leadership roles in the NGO, non-profit, or educational spaces, and highlighted that “we’re emerging as hybrid leaders who have to be adaptable and work transdisciplinary in changing the world.” Obtaining and putting into practice a business degree is important, but breaking out and using it in a non-traditional field is what could ultimately stimulate change.

Katherine Milligan, a Gabelli Fellow in Global Partnerships and Initiatives and former director of Schwab Foundation at the World Economic Forum, spoke about social innovation and entrepreneurship, and how social entrepreneurship is “baked into the DNA” of companies who run with these goals in the forefront.

Milligan noted that there are three main ways to guide students that are graduating with a business degree and wish to move forward in their careers with social innovation in mind:

1. Making a shift from the dominant paradigm of a competitive mindset, focused solely on growing market share, to a systems mindset, recognizing the social innovation problems as too big for anyone to solve.

2. Figuring out how to bring those with lived experience into the classroom setting. A common flaw with current courses, is that students are motivated to work on problems that they don’t have any personal connection with. Educators who have a lived experience can open the debate about power and privilege.

3. Helping students attain an idea of inner wellbeing and that the self is foundational for successful social change. There are many hoops to jump through in the social innovation space, and it’s a tough road. And, the more we glamorize this space, the more of a dis-service we provide to business graduate students who may want to go down this path.

Under the social innovation and sustainable business concentration at the Gabelli School of Business, Gabelli School students show that they don’t want to simply do business, but rather strive to change the world. Father Michael Garanzini, the Secretary of Higher Education for the Society of Jesus, agreed and urged students to not only be business graduates, but to be “leaders of change who face issues honestly and effectively.”

But associate dean for business and impact at the University of Michigan, Ross School of Business, Jerry Davis, noted that this notion “is harder than it looks,” with business schools stereotypically focusing on teaching students how to make “a PowerPoint presentation for how all of the world’s problems can be solved… and three bullet points to take away.” In reality, he and the other speakers noted that students really have to “dig in and be in it for the long haul,” to create a ready-for-the-world enterprise.

When the guidance above is taken, young leaders can help to make the world a better place and become a more impactful paradigm for the future, especially when bringing their business degree to the table and working with those around them from different areas to change the world.

Have you found this calling to add social innovation to your career goals? If so, get ready to change the world.

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