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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

IBS finds niche with corporate responsibility curriculum

Published: October 14, 2011
Section: Front Page

As college students and middle-class Americans, inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement, join in the spread of protests against corporate greed, the Brandeis International Business School offers its students a different model of the role business can play in society.

In line with the university’s long-standing pillar of social justice, professors at the business school teach students how to expand profit at a firm while simultaneously incorporating corporate responsibility and socially responsible business practices.

In an ad-hoc survey conducted last spring, more than half of 45 first- and second-year Brandeis IBS students said they were interested in a socially responsible business career, searching for a socially responsible internship or studying for the global green MBA specialization.

Faculty and staff said the business school’s commitment to teaching corporate responsibility reflects a generational shift in students who seek successful but also purposeful careers.

“It really is a millennial trend,” Katherine Prum, associate director of employer relations, said. “People really want careers that matter and that’s what business is responding to right now.”

Prum and her colleagues explained that social justice intersects with business beyond simply non-profit organizations and small start-up firms.

“The definition has to be much broader than non-profit. Non-profits aren’t the only companies that are socially engaged,” Prum said.

Brandeis IBS recognizes that socially engaged business leaders must posses both foundational knowledge in fields such as finance or marketing in addition to understanding how to manage a company with social responsible behavior, according to Professor Ben Gomes-Casseres, who directs the school’s global green MBA program.

The school offers courses specifically about corporate responsibility and non-market strategies for NGOs.

A new global green MBA degree is a specialization within the broader MBA track, and students benefit from exploring job opportunities in green jobs and clean energy and technology sectors growing in Massachusetts.

Gomes-Casseres posed the question: “How do these for-profit companies have a positive impact on society?”

The school’s efforts to teach and engage in socially responsible business also extend beyond the classroom.

Elissa Leonard MBA ’12 is the president of the environmental and socially-conscious club Net Impact, an organization that has consulted with the State Street corporation, seeking to prove that investment management and environmental protection do not have to be entirely separate tasks.

“When you are defining the value of a corporation or company, the answer to that value considers social and environmental impacts in addition to the financial bottom line,” Lenoard said.

During the summer, Brandeis IBS awarded six stipends for unpaid internships in fields including economic development, social policy, green tech innovation and social enterprise sectors. The stipends ranged from $1,200 to $5,000, Prum said.

Prum explained that as much as the business school tries to promote Brandeis’ emphasis on social justice, all schools have to adapt to the new social pressures on the business community.

“Introducing the concept of sustainability and corporate ethics is fundamental for any business school to remain relevant,” she said.

Yet as the business school seeks to advocate corporate ethics for students entering the work force, it must confront a society that still doubts the genuine motivations of business leaders to lead organizations committed to corporate responsibility.

“I think it’s still an uphill battle to convince people that businesses have a broader responsibility than creating wealth,” Leonard said.

“There is obviously a lot of anger and unease about the role of business in society,” Gomes-Casseres said. “We would love to see our students channel their concern into constructive action.”