As members of Wharton’s graduating class part ways with their MBA experience, this is the first year that many are pausing, first, to reflect. Before making the transition from business school to business world, they’re taking inventory of their personal commitments to themselves, their families, their workplaces, and their communities.
It’s called the Wharton Commitment Project, or WCP, and its founder, Siamak Sarvari (MBA Class of 2017) says this year it’s needed more than ever. “The things we see around us–especially in the United States–we see a lot of divided politics. In the school, I see a lot of that and a lot of emotions in one way or another.”
“The project doesn’t take any side,” Sarvari says. “It just provides a structure for graduates of what they stand for and what’s important to them, whether it’s related to business or not, or if it’s personal or political.”
NOT A ‘ONE SIZE FITS ALL’ OATH
The idea of making some sort of statement at graduation to embed a sense of social purpose or moral guidelines in MBA students is hardly new. In fact, earlier efforts at Harvard Business School, particularly with the so-called MBA Oath in 2009, have led to some controversy. One HBS graduate called the Oath ill-considered, “intended to white-wash the failures of our graduates than to lay the foundation for a more honest and just practice of business” (see Why The MBA Oath Is Total Bunk).
And for years, HBS graduates have participated in a long-running Portrait Project, which asks MBAs how they intend to live their “one wild and precious” lives, a question posed by Pulitzer-Prize winning poet Mary Oliver, that annually results in a stunning gallery of portraits with public statements by selected HBS graduates. Wharton organizers say the Wharton Commitment Project is somewhat different. It’s not one size fits all nor is it strictly business focused, though neither is HBS’ Portrait Project.
Instead, it encourages students, who are about to enter the business world, to think about all the different aspects of life that they’ll be a part of and responsible for: themselves and their families, work and organizations, then the rest of society and the various communities to which they belong.
After thinking about the type of person they desire to be, students then come up with five personal commitments that they’ll prioritize for themselves after leaving Wharton. “The purpose is to help us lead a more purposeful life,” says Sarvari.
His five personal commitments are to prioritize family and health, pay it forward to help the less fortunate, build relationships and spend time with loved ones, challenge himself, but stay humble, and remember that life is short and the days are numbered. “We also know from research that writing down commitments that you can revisit and be reminded of will increase your likelihood of sticking to those commitments to fulfil them.”
FIVE COMMITMENTS, 50 CHARACTERS OR LESS
After attending a student-run kickoff workshop to introduce the project and the importance of actually writing down personal commitments, students who opted to participate submitted their five promises via an online survey. “We gave everyone a week to think about it and gave them two guidelines: start with a verb and limit each commitment to a maximum of 50 characters.”
Some 1,400 commitments later, the first-ever WCP saw responses range from the goal to leave a legacy and make the world a better place to, other, more specific goals such as run two marathons a year, have a weekly date night, and become a Chief Financial Officer.
Still, in analyzing all the responses, Sarvari and WCP co-founder, Carol Huang (also a Wharton MBA ‘17 grad), extracted the prominent themes that Wharton’s newest MBA alumni planned to commit themselves to.
THE MOST POPULAR 10 COMMITMENTS
What they found, as seen by the top 10 most cited responses, is that the MBA graduates mostly have their hearts set on positively impacting those around them:
- Care for family
- Invest in personal relationships
- Do good/serve others/give back
- Take care of personal health
- Continue learning/growing/staying curious
- Treat others with respect and kindness
- Act with integrity
- Pursue passion and meaning
- Keep challenging yourself
- Enjoy life
IMPACT ON BUSINESS
The inaugural WCP was topped off with a ceremony in which participants had their commitments presented to them on gold-plated keepsakes. They also paired up with other participants to serve as each other’s accountability partners.
So what does it all mean for firms and corporations who are getting set to welcome this influx of new graduates? Sarvari says he expects the commitments made through WCP to make Wharton MBAs stand out and to be more successful.
“Going through this introspection process, being more mindful of what’s happening around us, our life goals, etc., these things show themselves in the everyday activities we pursue,” he says. “In many cases, it also makes us much more principled. This is valued by employers.”
TEN YEARS FROM NOW
Sarvari also believes, “Being focused on what you want to do makes you more successful as it helps you use your time more efficiently.”
Out of this year’s graduating MBA class, 301 students participated in the inaugural Wharton Commitment Project. While Sarvari and Huang were pleased with the 35% participation rate, the hope is that it will grow each year and possibly be extended to Wharton’s undergraduates.
In terms of WCP’s long-term impact, Sarvari looks 10 years into the future, hoping his project doesn’t fizzle out like the MBA Oath has in more recent years. “In 10 years, if I know that going through this process has made 1% of graduates 10% less likely to hurt themselves or people around them, to me it’s a mission accomplished.”