Sustainability, Buddhism & Travel: Thai B-School Creates ‘Culturally Nimble’ MBAs

Students at Sasin. “A key word for Buddhism is balance — we want students to make decisions that they’re proud of and can stand behind,” Director Ian Fenwick says. Courtesy photos

INTEGRATING THAI CULTURE INTO THE CLASSROOM

According to Fenwick, Thai culture infuses the whole program; 90% of the school’s full-time MBA students are Thai, and the remaining 10% are international exchange students. For the EMBA student population, the demographic is slightly different; It’s made up of people who work in Thailand. Pre-pandemic, approximately one-third of EMBA students were non-Thai. Post-pandemic, Fenwick says this number has dropped to around 15%, however he’s hopeful that this number will soon increase. “Every student here is completely immersed in a Thai environment,” he explains.

Part of this Thai immersion is the integration of Buddhism into some of the B-school courses, such as the ‘Skills and Values’ module that’s taught in the MBA and EMBA.

“I wouldn’t want to present Sasin as a religious school,” continues Fenwick, “but we do have Buddhist monks that come and help us with some of the courses.”

“A key word for Buddhism is balance — we want students to make decisions that they’re proud of and can stand behind,” he adds. “The idea is to move beyond simple values and skills like math, finance and accounting, and integrate values that help students make decisions that aren’t simply based on monetary value.”

A SUSTAINABILITY-FOCUSED BUSINESS CURRICULUM

Ian Fenwick: Sasin is “not cutthroat like some business schools; it’s a helpful collective, moving ahead together. That’s perhaps something that business needs to model after in the future.”

Aside from the integration of Thai culture and Buddhism in Sasin’s master’s programs, sustainability has also been woven into the MBA and EMBA curriculums over the last decade. In fact, the school has its own Sustainability and Entrepreneurship Center, which focuses on promoting sustainability through an entrepreneurial mindset.

“We believe that sustainability will only be achieved through an entrepreneurial mindset and by changing the way we look at business problems,” says Fenwick. “Sustainability doesn’t replace the regular business curriculum, but it’s a flavor that runs throughout it.”

“If we want to have a world for our children and our children’s children, then sustainability is an imperative,” he adds.

THE OPPORTUNITY TO TRAVEL

While the EMBA students get to spend two weeks in the US during their degree, MBA students have the opportunity to go on an international exchange to the school’s institutional partners. Plus, each year, the school welcomes students from nearly half of its partners. “When we’re not in the midst of a pandemic, we usually send about two-thirds of our MBA students on exchange somewhere,” he says.

For the Thai students, Fenwick says that their primary motivation for entering the MBA or EMBA programs is to build their network and reorient themselves in Thailand; most of them were educated outside of Thailand, have dual-citizenship, and will be joining their family businesses upon graduation. For MBA or EMBA exchange students, the appeal to study at Sasin is to enjoy and experience an immersive, cultural experience – and learn how cultural and sustainability lenses impact business. “We have quite a few exchange student alumni that actually finished up by making a career here,” says Fenwick.

“I’ve taught in many business schools around the world, and this is the only place I’ve been where students run tutorials for each other,” says Fenwick. “It’s not cutthroat like some business schools; it’s a helpful collective, moving ahead together. That’s perhaps something that business needs to model after in the future.”

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