We all know the school’s mission, but does HBS live up to it? Do we? According to the book “The Golden Passport”, and all the press that has come with it, it would seem like the answer to both those questions is a resounding no. We would disagree with the extent of the criticism, but we understand where some of the anecdotes come from, and believe there is still work to be done for the answer to both of those questions to be a resounding yes.
Who is we you ask? Well, without knowing exactly what we wanted to accomplish initially, over the last months, a group of EC and RC students has created a task force that is now called “Living the Mission”. It started with a few of us from the Social Enterprise Club, but we soon discovered that there was a genuine student interest in talking about broader societal questions and the responsibility of business leaders far beyond the Social Enterprise Club (e.g. 300 students attended the Election 2016 in Perspective Speaker Series, Reimagining Capitalism and other applicable EC courses were oversubscribed).
This however should come as no surprise, as this interest has existed at HBS in different forms since its inception. Dean Donham, in 1927, wrote about the need for business leaders to make a difference in the world: “Unless more of our business leaders learn to exercise their powers and responsibilities with a definitely increased sense of responsibility toward other groups in the community, (…), our civilization may well head for one of its periods of decline,” and Dean Nohria has expressed the same sentiment: “business leaders must embrace a way of looking at their role that goes beyond their responsibility to their shareholder to include a civic and personal commitment to their duty as institutional custodians.”
After organizing an open space on the role of business and society, a group of 25 RCs and ECs organically formed and has since spent over 300 hours this spring semester collecting input from hundreds of students, alumni, and faculty members, to come up with tangible ways for the future leaders to be better exposed to diverse perspectives of the role of business in society and to graduate with a meaningful personal internalization of what our mission means for themselves.
The task force coalesced around a broad set of societal topics that enable students to build personal theories of individual leadership, and these are: Capital and Markets, Government and Regulation, Innovation & Jobs, Sustainability, Inequality, and Inclusion. These are certainly already covered to various degrees at HBS, yet we wanted to add our voice to say we can continue to do even more. We specifically think more could be done for students to understand the historical context and underlying assumptions of our current system, and identify personal theories of responsibility for how to address the most urgent and challenging problems facing business leaders in the future, develop the tools and frameworks to understand, anticipate, and manage the intended and unintended consequences of their decisions. All of this in our eyes is for students to graduate with a meaningful personal internalization of what our mission means for themselves.
We have come up with recommendations for each course in the RC, several EC classes, and some cross-cutting ideas (e.g. Bridges and Start). We have met with faculty to give them some ideas, focusing mostly on quick wins (i.e. augment existing course cases and material) but also highlighting opportunities for bigger lifts (i.e. new curriculum). One example of a quick win for TOM was to better address automation and “the future of work” which could be done with simple add-on conversations to several current case discussions including BYD, Watson, or could adapt the TOM Digitalization Challenge. Most faculty members were very open to feedback and told us they would incorporate suggestions in next year’s curriculum.
We also met with faculty to talk about how we could create more opportunities for students to reflect on their personal theories of leadership and on the HBS mission. We feel like there is opportunity to connect student reflections over time, including continuing to build on the MBA program (e.g., RC Start, Boardroom, Bridges).
Correspondingly, we have paired recommendations with action. We have organized spaces for conversation such as The Role of Business in Society Speaker Series (which included the following topics: The Power of Capital, Business and Government, and The Limits of Capitalism and an MBA). We are also organizing both the MBA Oath – a voluntary student-led pledge that asks graduating MBAs to commit towards the creation of value “responsibly and ethically” (there will be a session during Class Day of Graduation, led by Professor Rebecca Henderson, where as of now roughly 200 ECs will participate) and Commit to Start – a platform where students can input concrete, actionable, and achievable commitments for creating an impact in the year after graduation (some examples of different commitments could be mentoring, volunteering, pro bono consulting, blogging, or effective philanthropy like One for the World). Lastly, there are many other ideas underway for what can be done next year.
So now that you’ve read what we’ve been up to, what can you personally do?
– If you are an EC, then you can: Commit to Start, take the MBA Oath (even if you can’t join the session, you can do so individually virtually), remember the school’s mission in your life moving forward and try to make the world better
– If you are an RC, then you can: do the same, plus come to events next year, make sure you make voice heard (in and outside of the classroom), and if you want to join the task force, then reach out to Peter Hill or Evan Kornbluh.
Xavier Azcue (HBS ‘17) is one of the few former consultants at HBS. Born in Canada and living most of his life in Portugal, being the son of a Spanish/Brazilian dad and a Portuguese mom, he is relatively international. He is passionate about social impact, and hopes to build a career in the social sector space.
Chelsea Banks (HBS ‘17) hopes to leverage solutions, skills, and strategies from all sectors to create excellent educational options for all students in the US. She began her career as a middle school teacher in New Orleans, and has worked in both education consulting and non-profits in Boston. Chelsea grew up in phenomenal public and private schools just a few hours away in Connecticut.