New Data: Confidence High In B-Schools Tackling Poverty

More and more business schools make opportunities to help disadvantaged communities around the world an integral part of students’ MBA journey. Business schools have displayed an increased propensity to invest in struggling communities in many ways, particularly in elective form but also in nourishing entrepreneurial efforts that focus on helping under-resourced populations help themselves.

Globally, B-schools outside the U.S. may be more committed to this mission. New data shows that most stakeholders in global B-schools — deans and professors as well as students and alumni — believe it should be a key part of schools’ mandate to help alleviate world poverty.

But most, according to the new report by the Association of MBAs and its sister organization Business Graduates Association, also believe that schools aren’t doing enough.

“The research illustrates that business school stakeholders believe schools are currently delivering a modest impact when it comes to tackling poverty,” says Will Dawes, research and insight manager at AMBA & BGA, “and that there is widely held view that schools can do much more. This belief acts as a sign that business schools should be bolder about what they can achieve in this area.”


Will Dawes. AMBA&BGA photo

AMBA & BGA’s joint research project, Poverty and Action, polled 1,917 B-school professionals, deans, current students, and graduates, about the impact the global B-school community is making, and can continue to make, in addressing poverty and inequality. The report shows that 75% believe their institutions can make a “substantial impact” on reducing poverty around the world — but that 62% think the B-school community is not currently doing enough to help the poorest in society. While an overwhelming majority — 87% — agree that the global B-school community collectively needs to do more to help those in poverty, only 28% are aware of projects at their schools that directly work to combat poverty or help low-income localities or groups.

“Business management education should play a firm part in efforts to end poverty, and there is much more that schools can do,” Dawes says. “In fact, the findings suggest that stakeholders believe business schools can effectively double the impact they currently have on addressing poverty-related issues. There is also a suggestion that effective communication around the activities of business schools in relation to this topic may help spike awareness, not just of current efforts but also the extent of the impact they are making.”

The report further shows that 82% of B-school stakeholders believe that schools’ collective, concerted effort is essential in helping businesses join the fight to efficaciously work to help those on low incomes and in poverty; and nearly half of B-school professionals — 48% — call for more collaboration between schools. In perhaps the most positive development, only 12% were able to categorically say that their school has not been undertaking projects that work to alleviate poverty in some way.

“Collaboration between both business schools and the wider business and business policy landscape is seen by many to be a source of providing further impact,” Dawes says. “It is recognized that the efforts of many institutions working together will make a bigger difference.

“The challenge for business schools should not be underestimated,” he adds. “Poverty is often the result of systemic social and economic issues which are most likely resolved through incremental efforts. Nevertheless, this study shows that business schools are not shying away from facing up to these challenges.”


What might collaboration look like? More than a third (39%) say knowledge sharing and research, and just over a third (34%) say operating in a way which focuses on the society’s welfare instead of profit. B-schools could also make more of an impact in tackling poverty by funding to run programs and projects which support entrepreneurs from poor backgrounds (64%); increasing awareness of the role schools play in addressing issues surrounding poverty (58%); and putting more emphasis on poverty reduction as a schools’ purpose (55%). Among other suggestions:

  • Conducting projects with future business leaders from low-income neighbourhoods (68%);
  • Conducting free seminars (67%);
  • Learning opportunities or monitoring schemes for those on low incomes (67%);
  • Producing research which informs how businesses can help those in poverty (62%); and
  • The development of products and technologies for low-income consumers (48%).

While fewer than two-fifths (38%) say they are confident that B-schools help the poorest in society, and only 36% agree that their school makes an effort to reach those who are less well-off, 50% believe B-schools influence the way students think about issues related to poverty — and 48% agree that their school makes a genuine effort to tell students how they can make a difference in the lives of those that are less well-off.

The AMBA, one-third of the Triple Crown accreditation along with the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AASB) and the European Foundation for Management Development Quality Improvement System (EQUIS), accredits more than 250 global business schools worldwide, including all the top European programs. AMBA & BGA encourage their member institutions to “reach out beyond their walls and seek to address the most important issues facing our society,” Dawes says.

“The task now for business schools is to focus more clearly on how to face poverty issues in a concerted and impactful way,” he says, adding that that may entail working outside their academic confines. “With this in mind, business schools also have a duty to train and teach those who cannot afford to enroll onto their programs.”

See the next page for more data from the new AMBA & BGA report. 


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