The number of courses with social benefit content in US MBA programs is rising sharply. In February 2009 The Bridgespan Group contacted 15 graduate business schools known for their academic coursework and attention to social concerns to understand the dynamics impelling its growth. Responses from 10 of the MBA programs showed the inclusion of social benefit content in both core curricula and industry specific electives. Both the percentage of total courses including content relevant to the social and public sectors and the number of courses specifically related to managing social sector organizations more than doubled over the past five years at respondent institutions.
The follow-up conversations conducted with experts at the top schools revealed five trends affecting the overall growth of social benefit related content in MBA programs:
- Student demand: students actively seek opportunities to combine social benefit with MBA skills
- Faculty interest: faculty researchers are influenced by practitioners, both in traditional business and the social sector, who are increasingly attentive to social benefit in their work; curriculum changes as a result
- Employer demand: organizations that hire MBAs look for experience working across sectors
- Competition among MBA programs: recognizing that applicants demand cross-sector experience, programs in competition for top students drive each other further into this field
- The changing world: the boundaries between sectors are increasingly blurred in an interdependent global economy
Whether MBA students will see the social sector as a viable source of employment in the absence of jobs on Wall Street is an open and intriguing question. However, the level of interest in the relevance of business concepts to social benefit organizations among MBA students, professors and practitioners in the field is unmistakable.