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Business Schools

Aspen Institute Contest Pushes Business Case for Doing the Right Thing

The Aspen Institute will award more than $30,000 in scholarships to the finalists in its 2014 Business & Society International MBA Case Competition, which begins in March. Student teams from 25 business schools around the world will evaluate a case study co-authored by the Yale School of Management and Tecnológico de Monterrey in Mexico. Finalists will present to a panel of judges in New York on April 4.

“The case competition gives students a chance to wrestle with big questions of corporate purpose and how to measure success,” says Nancy McGaw, director of the Aspen Institute’s Center for Business Education. “It helps students see how you have to bring together all kinds of disciplines and a deep understanding of how business works in order to make the right decisions.”

Business-minded students have shown an interest in helping companies do good, even though some have worried that careers in corporate social responsibility will be less compelling to MBAs as the lessons from the recession start to fade. In its 2013 annual report, Net Impact, a nonprofit dedicated to fostering social impact in student leaders, reported that 83 percent of MBAs would take a 15 percent pay cut to work for an organization whose values match their own. Of those values-driven students, 32 percent requested greater career support to help them land social-impact jobs.

That doesn’t necessarily meant students are shunning big corporate institutions. McGaw predicts that MBAs will increasingly be hired by large companies seeking to improve long-term value, rather than nonprofits or specific social enterprises, predicts McGaw.

Business schools with a focus on social impact have worked hard to convince students that they can do good and get paid, and the tide of public opinion seems to be turning in favor of socially conscious companies. According to a joint study by the London Business School and Harvard Business School, investment analysts who used to rate companies with an emphasis on social responsibility as a bad investment are increasingly making positive recommendations on those companies. That’s because the motivation for social responsibility is being seen as more than purely ethical: Sustainable practices are good for the bottom line—not just a good night’s sleep.

“Even in finance, we’re beginning to see the question being raised of how do you balance private gain and public good,” says McGaw. “The notion that you just focus on short-term profit maximization is really being challenged in all sectors.”

Choi is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek covering business schools and careers. Follow her on Twitter @awesomechoi.

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