Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Why an MBA in CSR Helps Employability

This post is a response to Does an MBA in CSR Hurt Your Employability? written by Catherine C. Chong on the Vault CSR blog.

An article has been making the rounds recently asking the question, “Does an MBA in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Hurt your employability?”.  And in my opinion the answer is no. Actually, an MBA in CSR is more likely to land you a job if anything.

The author makes three inferences:

1. Judging from the title of the article  she’s pretty scared that CSR educations lower your chances for a job after graduation (even though I didn’t see any hard evidence for this.)

2. There is general ignorance around the topic of corporate social responsibility, and that there is a perception that people concerned with CSR “have no numerical skills or business acumen.”

3. One might not have the proper background to succeed in a CSR career, or might do better in other careers.

Let’s get down to business.

You can always try cashing in on a book deal (nathanschock)

First, there is huge demand for people with CSR and Sustainability educations, and it’s only getting stronger.

At a recent International Business Leaders Forum Barend van Bergen of KPMG predicted that sustainability is headed in a positive direction:

“There will be more regulation kicking in; emerging markets will become more active in sustainability and the capital markets and the financial sector will become more active in coming years.”

And when asked about job opportunities, he stayed optimistic:

“Yes, I do think [the demand is going to grow] so. At KPMG, we are looking for these professionals. The financial sector is huge, the corporate sector as a whole, and consulting will all see a strong demand for CSR professionals.”

One only needs to look at the plethora of CSR and Sustainability job listing sites to see that job opportunities are on the rise. Which leads me to point #2.

There are plenty of businesses who realize the value of a CSR education, and they expect strong business and financial skills from their employees, regardless of whether applicants have a traditional MBA or and MBA in CSR or Sustainability.

Go ahead and check out some of the listings on the job listing sites.  What do you see? Beyond the niche jobs you might expect for CSR and sustainability, there are positions open for communications coordinators, director of business development, CEOs, VPs of finance and administration, and beyond. You need to have pretty strong business and financial know-how for many of these positions.

These businesses understand the added value that a focus in CSR will bring. As long as the core education of your MBA is solid, a focus on CSR can only add to your education, not subtract from it. Sure, some people and businesses will not recognize the value of CSR, but those who do will value it and seek it out. You just need to start looking for those companies. Besides, would you really want to work for a company that doesn’t respect something you’re passionate for?

Finally, one’s passion for CSR will always outshine any lack of experience you might have in a CSR career.

With respect to the academic who gave advice to the author, he’s kind of bad at his job. He advised that she didn’t have the proper background to succeed in CSR, and she would have better career opportunities elsewhere. Of course she might have better opportunities elsewhere, but would she be happy in those career paths? And what would a proper “background” look like to have a successful career in CSR? As long as you are passionate about your job neither of those points really matter. In my opinion, being happy in your career is infinitely more important than the ease in which to find a job.

Don’t let fear and the ignorance of others get in the way of doing what you love.

Alex Salkin grew up in Seattle with a background in social media and wildland firefighting. He is currently pursuing his MBA in Sustainable Business from the Bainbridge Graduate Institute. He enjoys telling it like it is and pushing the boundaries of sustainability. He may be contacted on twitter @EcoErudition.



The Leeds Net Impact Case Competition Opportunity

This is a follow up to my last post, found here. Check it out for the full picture.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post called “The Leeds Net Impact Case Competition Travesty”. It included my thoughts and opinions about the results of a business case competition, with a few takeaways listed and a healthy dollop of strong language. That post broke my previous record number of hits for three days straight, getting much more attention than I thought it would.

This resulted in many positive reactions (mainly from people at my business school) and, unsurprisingly, many negative reactions as well. I was naively unprepared for the latter, assuming that only friends and acquaintances would see my blog, and was stopped short when a classmate was contacted by a Leeds student and competition volunteer. He had been a major part of the competition, and was clearly upset by what I had written.  This resulted in a phone meeting scheduled between myself, a BGI classmate named Greg who had competed in the finals, and three Leeds students/volunteers in charge of next year’s competition.

That phone call happened one week later. Luckily, we all had time to reflect on both the competition and my blog post and had gained some perspective from both sides. It was obvious that both parties had come into the phone call with open minds, and the resulting conversation was centered around suggestions on how to improve the competition next year. Here is some of what we duscussed:

  1. Invite someone from Net Impact to be a judge– The Leeds students were thinking of implementing this, and I wholly support the idea.  Bringing in someone with more of a background in sustainability will bring in more diversity of opinion into the judging panel.
  2. The judging rubric- We had some back and forth around the judging methods.  I’m all for creating a level playing field, letting all the judges have equal say as to who should win. I feel that as of now, whoever has the strongest opinions and personality can sway the rest of the judges one way or another. The current driving thought at Leeds is the desire to create a conversation in the judging room: a great learning opportunity is missed if judges simply add up points and walk away. This lead me to suggest a third way where we can meet in the middle- Why not have a set rubric that makes sure that all the requirements of the case are met (worth, say, 50% of the final points), while the judges argue and discuss the other 50%.  Would this be a good solution?  The Leeds students heard me out and agreed to talk about it further among their peers.
  3. Feedback from the judges after the final round– Greg made the point that none of the teams in the finals this year got any feedback from the judges after the final round.  Leeds assured us that it was a fluke that this had happened, and having feedback available was actually planned into the competition.  It was a simple mistake that happened in the process of herding cats and judge feedback is very much an important part of the competition. Special attention will be paid to this during the 2012 competition.

All in all, showing the willingness to talk about improving the system proves how serious this competition is taken. I’ve never stopped thinking that the Leeds Case Competition is a terrific case competition: it is obvious that the students involved are incredibly passionate, intelligent, and capable, and the phone conversation helped me confirm that.  The students I spoke to are true leaders.

The future of the competition is in good hands.

The opinions in this article are solely those of the author (who apologizes to anyone who may have been upset by his previous post) and not those of BGI or of any competitor in the competition.

The Leeds Net Impact Business Case Competition Travesty

For follow-up on this post, please click here.

I had the opportunity to attend this year’s Leeds Net Impact Business Case Competition in Boulder, Colorado over the weekend, which claims to be “The premier case format competition built around businesses facing sustainability challenges, while succeeding financially.” If that really is the case, then the bar for sustainability has been set very, very low.

Let me give you some background. The competition focuses on a problem in business focused on sustainability. The sponsor this year, Ball Corporation, provided the case with the aim to reinvigorate stagnant recycling rates in the US. 63 teams entered in the first round, 20 of which were selected to move on to the semi-finals. Two of those teams were from my school (BGI).

I would like to preface my next comments with this: I think the students and volunteers running this competition did an exceptional job.  This competition takes months of preparation and many, many hours of hard work.  I saw no hiccups in the execution of the competition, and with 20 teams and dozens of judges this is an impressive task.  Good work guys, you should be proud.

I was in Boulder cheering on my teams, one of which was chosen to be one of the five teams in the finals. I was able to sit in on four of the five final presentations, beginning with my school’s team. Their case was fantastic: set up recycling kiosks in high schools, where a portion of the deposit will go to the school lunch program. The students will essentially help pay for meals for the students sitting next to them in class. Talk about a social motivator! The kiosks will pay for themselves easily and feed into the recycling program in order to buy more kiosks for other schools, creating a self-sufficient program which would eventually recycle billions of cans and save millions of tons of CO2 from the atmosphere, all the while helping feed healthful meals to millions of students. The practiced delivery was flawless, all questions were handled with confidence and ease, and the team was relaxed and professional.

Then the other teams presented. UW, who eventually got first place, pitched an iPhone app called “Loop” which would tell you where the nearest recycling can is, as well as the ability to track your recycling rates. (Guess what? Already exists. And it isn’t going to change the habits of anyone who doesn’t already care about recycling or owns an iPhone.) They were the only other team to remotely mention environmental savings, which the BGI team blew clear out of the water.

USC, who got second place, pitched a Facebook game about recycling that needed 15 million users to break even. Their pitch was stumbled and canned, and they didn’t seem to realize that it already exists as well. Again, not going to change anyone’s habits who doesn’t already care about recycling and is limited to Facebook users. (And they wanted to partner with Zynga and Waste Management, both of whom are currently running direct competition to this game. Not to mention Zygna is one of the most despicable gaming companies around and would steal their idea in a heartbeat if given the chance.) The team didn’t even mention environmental savings.

All told, BGI’s was the only team that mentioned the triple bottom line with a social motivator to get kids to care about recycling. You think that would matter in a Sustainability Competition.

So what happened? After the winners were announced, some students spoke to some of the final judges and discovered that another judge from a major corporation had already tried a kiosk campaign once and rejected any teams who used them, not letting them place in the top three. Major arguments for BGI to place went unheard and the strongest and most stubborn personalities refused to look at the presentation on its own merits. BGI was not to get any higher than 4th place.

Nice try, Judges.

This experience has taught me three major lessons:

#1 The Sustainability movement has a long, hard, uphill battle to fight against the status quo. Watching a fantastic idea get ignored for flashier ideas that won’t work has shown me how stubborn old industry hands can be.

#2 Leeds really must change the judging methods for the competition to weigh sustainability higher.  I can tell you right now that students from my school know more about sustainability than 90% of the judges in the competition (and in this year’s case, definitely more about social media as well). The competition is currently judged by the sponsors, and from reports from the judging room it sounds like opinion and personality take precedence over a non-partisan rubric. The Walmart Better Living Business Challenge does this really well, weighing sustainability higher than profitability in a well-defined rubric.  If the Leeds competition claims to be about sustainability, then back up your claim and make it less of a farce where giant companies can wash themselves in green. This is a fantastic competition that is in danger of losing credibility for giving too much power to the sponsors. Which leads me to my third lesson…

#3 The Net Impact brand is in danger of diluting into another greenwashing tool. This competition showcases a school’s ability to use  the “Net Impact” title to highlight its progressive efforts towards sustainability without really flexing its muscles to prove it.

Time to buck up, Leeds. You can do better than this next year.

The opinions in the article are solely those of the author (who is extremely pissed off) and not of BGI or other students in the competition.

How BGI Gets It Right

I’ve recently been asked by BGI to write about my experience there as a student for the release of their new website. I was happy to oblige and the complete post can now be found in the Student Experience section of the website. The post was tons of fun to write and I hope it gives you a sense of why I love my school!

Post is copied below.

The decision to go to graduate school is never an easy one to make.  No matter your station in life, the price tag and time commitment are enough to make the most foolhardy career student think twice. Once enrolled in a program, the major lifestyle shifts required to accommodate new responsibilities are more than enough to make you want to start crying in a shower somewhere. Yet, even with this in mind, thousands of students run the gauntlet and apply to business schools every year, saying “See you later!” to close friends and family, and “Goodbye!” to full nights of sleep. Most business schools accept this as part of the status quo, but at least one is bucking the trend.

The Bainbridge Graduate Institute (BGI) is a one-of-a-kind business school that understands the stress put on the students throughout the years. BGI offers both an MBA and a certificate in Sustainable Business through a hybrid on-site and distance learning model (called the Hybrid Program) as well as in-person classes in the Evening Program offered from their offices in Downtown Seattle. From day one the school has been designed to build a healthy culture that supports the students along the way, and to avoid the pitfalls of other business schools.  Here’s how they do it.


Before the Fall Quarter begins, new students in BGI’s Hybrid Program are sent to a 5-day orientation atChannel Rock, a 140-acre conservancy and retreat center located on Cortes Island in British Columbia, Canada. The students go to orientation in groups no larger than 25, with several members of the staff and faculty present. The incredible setting allows for students to slowly get to know one another, building trust with one another and providing a support system for the next step in their lives. This web of support is invaluable for the next few years while students are in the program. The small class sizes (9-20) of the Evening program are naturally able to provide this support without the week long orientation.


When students in the Hybrid MBA Program are on-site (once a month for four days) and once a week in the Evening program, the school gathers for a community meeting called “Opening Circle,” where everyone in the community is present and can hear public announcements, complaints and (most importantly) appreciations.  Publicly appreciating a fellow student helps build and support a culture of deep connections between members of the community, and is often cited as students favorite part of the day.

Opening Circle at a BGI Intensive


BGI does not offer letter grades; instead it uses a pass/fail system with an 80% required to pass the class.  This is offered for one main reason: to motivate students to help one another in each class.  In traditional programs—which grade on a curve—your grade and class ranking improves when one of your classmates fails a test or drops out. This supports a system of harsh competition and shallow interpersonal connections.  There is no reason to help out another student who is struggling in one of their classes.  Alternatively at BGI, where you don’t worry about class rank, you are more likely to work with someone in order to help their understanding of a subject.  The school as a whole and the degree you earn is worth more if students graduate with a better understanding of subject matter.


Don’t take yourself so seriously.” Required reading for first-year students is The Art of Possibility by Ben Zander.  The book offers great insight in how to be an effective leader. The sixth rule in the book, at its most basic, is “Lighten Up”. This rule is invaluable in a high-stress setting where tensions can run high and situations can seem more important than they really are.  Take a breath, step back, and calm down. Make a joke or two. Whatever it is you’re dealing with is probably not as urgent as you think, and realizing that is a good step to getting through tough times. Which leads to…


At the end of the on-site weekend at BGI there is always a party planned with a dance floor, music, and a bar.  More often than not there are activities and a theme to draw people in and engage with others.  The parties are a great way to top off the month by releasing some built up steam by dancing, singing, and catching up with people you haven’t seen in a while.

Saturday Night Party via Patrick Torres

This list is not exhaustive, and there is more that BGI could do to build interpersonal connections between students, but it’s a great start. Just in its tenth year of existence, BGI goes to great lengths to create a supportive community.  This system is an alternative to the cut-throat, competitive nature of business taught in the past, and shows that much more can be accomplished when groups of people build trust with one another and participate in a supportive network. This is a microcosm that I hope, in time, will spread to the mainstream.

Top Business Schools Survey: You’re doing it wrong.

The QS Top MBA survey has been released recently, and with an unusual twist.  This year they have decided to add the Corporate Social Responsibility rankings to their survey. At the top of the list? All of the usual big-name business schools you’ve already heard of.  Stanford, Harvard, Dartmouth, Columbia, Yale, MIT… These, among others, all scored perfect 100 on their CSR ratings. And you know what? I call bullshit.

Bullshit I tell you!

Has anyone forgotten the giant financial meltdown from a few years ago? The one that’s still kind of happening?  That has happened in large part because of shady business practices led by people with MBAs.  As Michael Jacobs of the Wall Street Journal explains in his article How Business Schools Have Failed Business, most of our future business leaders have never even heard of CSR:

About 70% of the shares of American corporations are held by institutional investors such as pension and mutual funds. These organizations are brimming with MBAs. But how many of these MBAs took a class devoted to how shareholders should exercise their rights and obligations as the owners of America’s corporations? Few, if any. When shareholders are uneducated about their obligations, how can a corporate accountability system function properly?

So TopMBA is telling me that we’ve got 28 schools that have earned a 5 star rating in CSR? Most of the schools on the list have been pumping out MBAs for decades without mentioning any kind of responsibility besides to their stockholders.  Suddenly these schools are teaching CSR with no room for improvement? You have a bridge to sell me too?

I’ve mentioned before that schools can’t just squeeze this stuff into their already packed curricula. There isn’t room in the current courses or an open mindset from the professors.

I’m not the only person who feels this way. As Melissa Dingmon, director of admissions at BGI, tells it, these schools are pretty much copying what smaller, newer schools are already doing: integrating CSR into every single class in a curriculum that has been built from the ground up around CSR and Sustainability. And these schools (BGI, Presidio, Marlboro, Dominican) aren’t even on the list.

TopMBA, You’re doing it wrong.

Uncovering Sustainability in the Curriculum

I ran across this article today about sustainability curriculum by Daniel Sherman of the University of Puget Sound. I’m psyched to find it because the article explains why sustainability cannot just be shoved into an existing curriculum- be still my heart.  Here’s the gist of it:

Hey! My old library books!

Sherman describes the hardships of inserting new material into an existing program:

Faculty often speak of “coverage” when there is a movement afoot to add something to the curriculum.  Champions of the movement demand more coverage of the favored topic, ideas, skills, or perspectives in the curriculum, while the unconverted emit exasperated sighs—arguing either that there is no room in their curriculum to cover anything else or that the proposed addition does not fit what they typically cover.

Most courses don’t have any extra time or space to fill.  Many professors have been teaching for years, tweaking and altering course content in order to provide the best education they can.  How open to new, untested material do you think they would be? On top of that, how many teachers are actually able to go through an entire textbook front to back in one term? Not many.  There isn’t enough time for the material they’re familiar with, let alone sustainability material they haven’t taught before.

Then there’s the problem of public perceptions of sustainability. What is it in the first place? According to the article, 90% of respondents associated it with recycling or some other practice, while the other 10% properly (excuse my snobbishness) associated it with “conservation” or “systems thinking.”  How can we ask teachers to teach a concept when a good number of them simply think it’s about putting aluminum cans in the right bin?

That’s why any class worth it’s salt will have been designed from the ground up around sustainability.  You need the right professors with the right skills teaching the right curriculum if you want to have any success educating in the new millennium.

Who in the United States is doing it right?  Off the top of my head, Bainbridge Graduate Institute (Full disclosure, I’m currently a student there and it’s awesome), Presidio, Marlboro, and Dominican are probably the only schools I know of that are the true leaders in Sustainability and CSR education.

Can Sustainability Reinvigorate the Liberal Arts?

Back in 2006, former President of Cornell University Frank Rhodes wrote an essay calling sustainability “The Ultimate Liberal Art”, saying that the tenets of sustainability could be used to make liberal arts degrees relevant once more.

History degree, huh? What are you gonna do with that?

I originally found this topic from JustMeans writer Andrea Brennen, who sums up Rhodes’ view fairly well, but I’ll break it down even further.

  1. Liberal Arts degrees are losing credibility.
  2. This is bad, because they help teach critical thinking, historical context, perspectives, etc.
  3. The Liberal Arts can be reinvigorated by applying them to the current age (i.e. sustainability)

Brennan explains Rhodes’ point of view:

Sustainability, Rhodes argues, is the perfect unifying force; its interdisciplinary framework requires an understanding of science, social science, and economics, and its overarching philosophy is underwritten by weighty moral considerations, ethical debates, and issues of social justice. Additionally, sustainability carries with it a sense of urgency, a nonpartisan immediacy, and a call to action.

I personally love this idea, but Brennan is skeptical, and for good reason. “When did education (or, more specifically, the liberal arts) become about the totalizing presentation of one unified ideology?” She makes the case that at this point we wouldn’t even know what that ideology would be. “Sustainability, as a notion, seems to vacillate between the utmost ambiguity and hyper-specificity, depending on who you talk to. It can mean something as vague as “caring for the earth” or as explicit as not traveling in an effort to reduce your personal carbon footprint.”

*cough* I disagree. Yes, to some people sustainability is just caring for the environment, but that’s not the extent of it. Sustainability takes the whole system into account- environmental sustainability with healthy economic growth, social issues are weighed with a healthy dose of ethics.  It’s the whole package, all with the potential to be taught with new, innovative methods.

I think Rhodes is right. We just need to better explain what a sustainable liberal arts education would look like.