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What are some of the most common reactions I get when I say I'm an MBA candidate specializing in CSR?
1. "Ah, the eco warriors!"
2. "So you study charities?"
3. "There is an MBA in CSR? You must be kidding me."
Okay, there's a fourth one.
4. A long pause and a blank face.
I am an MBA candidate specializing in corporate social responsibility (CSR) in one of U.K.'s top schools with a sustainability or environmental social governance (ESG) component in their curriculum. The program allows a candidate to choose between a general MBA and a specialization in finance, entrepreneurship or CSR.
A few weeks into my second term, a non-CSR academic gave me some interesting advice. He said: Take the general MBA route than a specialized MBA in CSR, while following the same modules I have chosen. His reasoning was that having CSR on my certificate might influence my future career options.
For me, his advice meant one of two things:
Despite how much I enjoy my lectures and research, and my optimism for a career in CSR, his points were a big concern for me. And so, since our conversation, I started paying much closer attention to body language when meeting people in the field.
When I observed smothered cynicism, which was most of the time, I debated their views, hoping to reason the skepticism out. But the reality is that people who believe in CSR or CR are perceived as disconnected from the 'real' world. That they are tree-huggers or socialists, delusional about what makes the world go round.
My private equity and venture capital class professor's moniker for me is "the CSR person!"
There is a general perception that anyone concerned with CSR has no numerical skills or business acumen. Not to beat my own drum, but I had the highest score in finance, accounting and marketing in the program! Surely, I cannot go around telling employers that, or is that what it's come down to?
Business schools don’t function in a vacuum and the advice given to me is directly linked to this perception by employers and recruiters. For me, commerce and CSR coexist and my dual education equips me well for contributing much value to companies.
But, how do you communicate that to employers?
There is certainly a growing interest in the field with several business schools integrating sustainability into the curriculum. Perhaps students have as much a role to play in encouraging the same leadership from the corporate world.
Only when employers demand candidates with CSR and ESG background to fill their non-CSR specific jobs like finance and marketing, can we see real change in the perception of studying business and corporate social responsibility.
Here's my evaluation of the worth vs. unworthiness of MBA programs: There are masters program that offer full CSR modules, (Masters of Science in CSR, in Sustainability, etc.) and then there are MBA programs with the option to specialize in CSR.
But I think an MBA is more valuable of the core concentration on business skills, which allows candidates to have a long term vision and strategically align product placement and strategic growth with CSR.
Personally, my favorite module last year was operations management, a subject I never knew I would enjoy as much as I did. My earlier perception of the usefulness of this proved completely wrong. After all, LEAN and supply chain management are just a few of the fundamental operations that augment CSR initiatives toward achieving a double bottom line right?
Of course, there are also many ways to bring up CSR in otherwise hard-nosed subjects like operations management, risk management, etc. For example, while I was taking the operations management class, I happened to be in a discussion with three other members who were also interested in CSR. Our common interest led us to form a group to study microfinance.
For that to fit our operations management project requirements, we studied the use of technologies to reduce cost of operations in MFIs. Problem solved!
--By Catherine C. Chong
Catherine Chong was born in Malaysia with a Confucian upbringing and Anglo-Saxon education. After spending four years in brand and event management, she joined a web analytic start-up doing business development in Asia Pacific. While there, she discovered the parallels between seeking the truth and self-attainment. Catherine is currently an MBA candidate specializing in CSR. She plans to write her thesis on corporate (social) responsibilities in the private equity industry and how a changing global economy will affect the aspirations of the private equity industry. Among her objectives is to find how private equity differentiates CSR from public and whether this will lead to a new breed of CSR. You may contact Catherine on Twitter @CatherineChongC.
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