Master of Business Administration (MBA) students – particularly in Africa – are displaying a heightened sense of citizenship and responsibility, pursuing the skills necessary to bring their social impact and innovation priorities to life.
That’s according to new research from the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC), which found that MBA students increasingly want to change the world for the better. In addition, a high percentage are drawn to South African business schools, thanks to the variety of opportunities in the local dual economy to practice what they preach.
The study, which found that students are less motivated by monetary gain than by social impact, earning international exposure and respect from their peers, was conducted in 15 countries and surveyed 5 900 MBA applicants.
Globally, 27% of respondents believed an MBA would bring them professional respect, while 14% were “global strivers”, and 10% were “balanced careerists” interested in improving their professional standing. In addition, 12% were designated as “impactful innovators” motivated primarily by making a positive impact on the world.
But the statistics for Africa were very different.
Amena Hayat, career services manager at the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Graduate School of Business (GSB), said closer analysis of the GMAC findings revealed alternative results for Africa, where a far higher percentage of students fell into the “impactful innovators” category.
The GSB’s own research had turned up a similar pattern.
“A higher percentage of applicants – around 25% – are interested in social impact and innovation, and are looking for the skills to bring their ideas to life.”
“[We have found] a higher percentage of applicants – around 25% – are interested in social impact and innovation, and are looking for the skills to bring their ideas to life,” Hayat said, adding that such students are drawn to the GSB primarily because of the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
The centre, established in 2001, has built a reputation as being among the top five academic centres in the world in terms of social impact.
“It must also be noted that the majority of these students are millennials – the group of young people who were born roughly after 1980, and fall into the age group of late 20s and early 30s. They are the first generation to reach adulthood in the new millennium and while they have been criticised for being self-absorbed and social-media obsessed, millennials also have a heightened sense of social purpose and responsibility,” Hayat said.
Business consultancy Deloitte has found that millennials like to work at socially responsible companies. It claims that six out of every 10 millennials require a sense of purpose at work. They don’t just want a job, but want to be engaged and have a career that means something.
Hayat added that the UCT GSB appeals to these individuals because they recognise that more than only theory is required to innovate and make an impact.
Adjustment and adaptation
“Students need to learn how to implement innovative ideas – a process that requires a complex skill set, including humility and empathy,” she said.
Professor Kosheek Sewchurran, acting GSB head, said managers constantly find themselves in situations that require ongoing adjustment and adaptation, rather than pre-designed plans. This required not only theory, but also wisdom.
“Students need to learn how to implement innovative ideas – a process that requires a complex skill set, including humility and empathy.”
“That wisdom only comes from practice and experience. Even more than that, it requires the ability to reflect on what you have experienced. It comes from trying things out, refining what you are doing, and having the ability to evaluate whether you achieved what you intended,” he said.
Ultimately, he believes that graduates who are trained in this way of thinking will emerge stronger, more authentic, with high emotional intelligence (EQ) and a greater propensity to act ethically. They will also be more comfortable with complexity which will stand them in good stead in future workplaces.
Hayat agreed, saying this would become even more relevant as the global business landscape grows more nuanced and uncertain.
“It is the MBA candidates with high EQ and the drive to give back, as well as the skill set to effectively do so, who will find themselves in a different league,” she said.
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