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Business Schools Are Beginning to Embrace Stakeholder Inclusion

As MBA programs play catch-up with CEOs and move beyond shareholder capitalism, they have yet to change the core curriculum. 

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Illustration: Xavier Lalanne-Tauzia for Bloomberg Businessweek

On the role of business in society, the trend lines are clear: Shareholder primacy is out and stakeholder inclusion is in. Chief Executive Officers Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Larry Fink of BlackRock Inc. were among the scores of corporate luminaries who in 2019 publicly made “a fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders,” including the environment, employees, suppliers, and communities, as members of the Business Roundtable. Similar pledges now pop up everywhere, from global gatherings of the business elite to advertisements for the Australian toilet paper company Who Gives a Crap Ltd., which uses recycled materials and spends half its profits on building toilets and improving sanitation in the developing world: “Wipe your bum, change the world.”

Business schools have been slow to reflect this zeitgeist, but they’re rapidly making up for lost time. This month, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School is becoming the first large MBA program to offer a major in environmental, social, and corporate governance, standards used by socially conscious investors to vet companies. Harvard Business School offers courses that ask students to question the very purpose of capitalism. And Columbia Business School has set an ambitious goal to become the nation’s top generator of leadership in the burgeoning field of social entrepreneurship.