After thirteen years leading the push toward sustainable business education, the Global Social Sustainable Enterprise MBA is finally getting its due: The program received the prestigious MBA Roundtable Innovator Award in recognition of its commitment to innovative business education.
The irony in the award’s timing? It was bestowed just after major innovations in curriculum culminated in its evolution into the Impact MBA, which is now accepting students for its first class of students in Fall 2020.
The new program expands its scope, augmenting the GSSE’s social entrepreneurship foundation with a corporate sustainability track that focuses on sustainable intrapreneurship. The expansion of its curriculum offers students more opportunity to use business fundamentals for positive social impact, either through entrepreneurial ventures or while working within a business and influencing sustainable strategies. Fully embracing a sustainability-focused curriculum made the GSSE stand out from a crowded field, helping it earn the innovation distinction from the MBA Roundtable.
“In many programs, sustainability is typically just a one-semester class at the most, or it’s something that’s included in a strategies or management class,” Impact MBA Program Manager Shelby Sack said. “It’s not to the level that it’s incorporated into our entire program.”
The MBA Roundtable Innovator Award is a prestigious acknowledgement toward a program that was one of the first in the nation to combine sustainability with traditional business curriculum. The award is bestowed biannually by the MBA Roundtable, an organization of more than 150 business schools dedicated to advancing graduate-level business education. Its member schools include Yale, the University of California Irvine and Rice University.
The award honors the GSSE MBA’s efforts to harness advanced business skills to drive positive social change, but student experience also weighed heavily in its favor. Where many programs offer experiential learning that’s little more than a highly curated trip abroad, GSSE and future Impact MBA students wholly immerse themselves in a summer practicum or field experience depending on their chosen track.
Students identify an opportunity for a sustainable business, meet with members of their industry, and lay the foundation for a real-world startup. Initiatives such as alumna Zubaida Bai’s Ayzh, which provides health products for women in developing nations, trace their roots back to the program’s summer practicum. The entrepreneurial experience offers students the opportunity to engage in hands-on development of their business idea that’s anchored in practical application of complex theories to some of the world’s most pressing societal challenges.
Another GSSE duo, Erica Tardiff and Kelly Haugen, leveraged their practicum to found Noblis Aqua, a company that uses the invasive Asian carp rather than ocean-caught fish to create fishmeal for hatcheries. “We drove out to Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee and we camped out there for a couple weeks,” Tardiff describes her summer practicum. “We were spending time with the Department of Natural Resources in Illinois and the Fish and Wildlife Service in Kentucky. That definitely helped us form relationships with the fish meal suppliers we are using now. That’s what led us now to continuing our business now, forming those relationships there.”
Like many of her predecessors in the GSSE, Tardiff’s summer experience directly led to the creation of a sustainable enterprise.
Sustainable enterprise was at the core of the GSSE MBA’s curriculum since its inception. That forward-thinking outlook is only now starting to be incorporated in boardrooms. Businesses are now realigning their priorities to embrace the “triple bottom line” of people, environment and profitability as consumers pull the marketplace toward more responsible corporate practices.
As more businesses adopt the triple bottom line, they’re also recognizing the value that GSSE and Impact MBA students provide. With their business leadership skills developed for success, Impact and GSSE students have a rare opportunity to use their skills for positive social outcomes.
“Our mission is to transform lives through business,” remarked College of Business Dean Beth Walker. “As corporations align with the philosophy of profit with purpose, we see programs like our GSSE MBA, and now Impact MBA, as crucial to educating the next generation of business leaders.”
“As the marketplace evolves, it will be more than corporate altruism that makes our graduates prized by employers,” Sack noted. “The financial implications of environmentally sustainable business practices are going to be much more clear cut.”
GSSE and Impact MBA alumni will be right there to help guide organizations with the triple bottom line of people, profit and planet. After all, they’ve been trained for it since their first day on campus.