22 May 2020 23:43 IST

Grooming MBAs to embrace social responsibility

Managers looking to be responsible citizens need to have the right attitude and value systems

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is engaging the attention of the business community, at large, and B-schools as well. CSR talks about the responsibilities of businesses and business leaders towards the well-being of all stakeholders, including the general public. Businesses realise they cannot prosper if the society they serve fails.

B-schools carry big responsibility

Business schools have the onus to provide practitioners with training in the basics of CSR and the ethics that underlies such responsibility. It should ideally act as a catalyst to stimulate socially and ethically managed business organisations. Management and business students should know the importance and role of CSR. It will help them in their grooming for future job roles at several management and business positions.

This essentially means that the demand for socially-conscious business executives is expected to surge in the future. In response, B-schools in India have leapt into the social responsibility movement, aptly labelling it “responsible management education”. B-schools and the graduating students understand that they can play a decisive role in spreading the message of the CSR revolution and sustainable development initiatives.

Accordingly, all prominent B-schools have taken active steps to integrate CSR courses into their core curriculum. In February 2019, the University Grants Commission came out with a draft National Framework and Guidelines for “Fostering Social Responsibility and Community Engagement in Higher Education Institutions in India.”

While spreading CSR is top of mind at all B-schools, the pertinent issue is whether these temples of higher education are geared to deliver industry-relevant social responsibility courses? Is CSR just a buzzword, or are B-schools really serious about translating these issues into action?

Formulation of CSR policies

Teaching social responsibility is not an easy task, as it is an abstract subject. However, the CSR course outline and delivery have become increasingly demanding after the introduction of the Companies Act 2013 (Section 135, Schedule VII). This section provides a broad framework for eligible companies to formulate their CSR policies, including activities to be undertaken in the right earnest.

CSR as part of business studies

Grooming young managers into responsible citizens requires changing their attitudes and value-systems. For this to happen, B-schools need to fine-tune the curriculum with the ultimate aim of spreading social consciousness among the MBAs. More specifically, CSR courses should be designed to prepare the students to become change-masters by adopting or advocating sustainable business practices. Also, more and more business schools around the world need to integrate social responsibility into their curriculum, including their research and teaching missions, as higher education is better off when it gives back to the society that is responsible for funding it.

Good news is that studies on the effectiveness of social responsibility related courses in higher education endorse that management graduates’ mindsets are evolving towards their civic obligations. There seems to be a consensus among MBAs that together with traditional courses like accounting and finance, marketing, operations, IT, and strategy , understanding of societal commitments is equally relevant in the changing business scenario.

Millennials are now open to enter into meaningful dialogues on issues concerning social responsibility, ethics and the environment by emphasising sustainable development goals. Teaching CSR courses in isolation, without aligning them to other management disciplines, is not likely to bring the desired results.

CSR: a moral obligation

The impression among business leaders is that CSR has not gone mainstream among B-school students. CSR practitioners say that the real purpose of offering CSR courses is to sensitise and bring about behavioural change in the attitudes of the MBAs. Reason: social responsibility is not just about what students think, but what they will do as a result of what they learn.

Social responsibility is an ethical construct where an individual or an organisation has a moral obligation to act for the community’s advantage. It enunciates that crucial stakeholders are accountable for fulfilling their societal commitments. This necessitates that upcoming business executives and entrepreneurs have to simultaneously shoulder the dual responsibility of increasing shareholder’s wealth as well as meeting social obligations.

Guler Sabanci, a powerful Turkish businesswomen, says, “I wear two hats. One is business and increasing my shareholders’ value; the other is social responsibility.”

How FORE is integrating CSR in management education

Premier B-schools follow a holistic approach in designing and delivering these courses. For example, FORE School of Management is a torchbearer among top B-schools in India when it comes to integrating social responsibility in management education and promoting it as an integral part of the learning system. At FORE, faculty continually strive to make CSR courses practical and contemporary. Faculty members make earnest efforts to establish linkages between CSR courses and the social impact programmes of prominent corporates.

In addition to explaining theoretical concepts, faculty push students to gain hands-on experience in sustainable business practices. Students are encouraged to develop ideas to undertake CSR projects of real-world significance. For this to materialise, subject matter experts and executives directly engaged in formulating and implementing CSR plans are regularly invited to share their experiences with students. Based on real-life learnings, students come up with concrete solutions to the problems they see in their social set-up on themes like health and hygiene, illiteracy, gender inequality, exploitation of child labour, environmental degradation, rural infrastructure, and women empowerment.

In today’s context, the Covid-19 pandemic seems to be the right time to encourage B-school graduates to embrace social responsibility and community engagement initiatives as part of their professional lives. Conceptual knowledge of CSR, coupled with experiential learning, can groom MBAs to become socially responsible business leaders. This, indeed, is extremely important for the advancement of future managers, businesses, and society as a whole.

(The authors are professors at FORE School of Management, New Delhi.)