March 4, 2016, by Academic contributor

Life as an MBA in Corporate Social Responsibility student

MBA CSR blog postI came to the MBA in CSR at Nottingham to find answers.

I had spent the last ten years working in the non-profit sector, and the last four in Tanzania. As I had acclimatized to the humidity and culture, I had become increasingly discouraged by international aid. Sometimes it wasn’t enough. Sometimes it was mistaken. And sometimes it was willfully misdirected.

Yet the importance of someone doing something to support development became even more crucial in my mind. It seemed that increasingly hopes were being pinned on the private sector, yet how did their efforts fare in comparison to international aid? What was their role? Could they do more?

Nottingham’s MBA in CSR appeared to offer the potential answers.

However, when I started last September, I realised my questions were only growing in number. There were the easy, trivial ones:

  • Can I justify spending money on chocolate digestives or should I get Asda’s own brand now that I’m a student again?
  • Does everyone read the same sentence twenty times in difficult papers, and then realise they still don’t understand it?
  • Is the Nottingham-wide generally accepted greeting of ‘Hiya’ contagious?

The answers to these were quickly found. In case you are wondering:

  • Yes. ‘Chocolate’ is a generous description for the translucent spread covering Asda’s own.
  • Probably. But it doesn’t really matter. There is always too much to read: focus first on what is interesting and second on what is useful.
  • Regrettably yes. I can’t even remember what I used to say.

These easy questions merely skimmed my sub-conscious mind. The much more interesting ones were the ones thrown up in class.

There are 37 of us in this year’s cohort. Within this 37 we have 21 different nationalities, representatives from the private, public and non-profit sectors, and experience ranging from 3 years to nearer 20. So much of what I have learned has been from them. Many have left families and partners back in their home countries and I have had any unwitting prejudices I may have held challenged. It turns out that I actually like some bankers.

The fact that Nottingham also offers an MBA in Entrepreneurship, an MBA in Finance, and a General MBA means that the cohort is a diverse mix of experiences and perspectives. More so, I suspect, than many other universities.

Now back to the questions. Bigger, deeper questions include:

  • What role can companies and industries play when markets fail? What role must they play? How should this be instilled and monitored?
  • How can CSR managers defend social impact to their Boards?
  • How can businesses be helped to understand CSR? Especially given most CSR managers in business have probably had very little exposure or training around the theory or experience outside their industry?

As the MBA progresses I am beginning to realise that it is not equipping me to answer these questions. However, it is equipping me to take part in the ongoing conversation around CSR, and that, in my opinion, is far, far more interesting.

Elizabeth Corbishley is currently completing a full-time MBA Corporate Social Responsibility

Posted in MBASustainabilityUncategorized