Our Students Re-Imagining Business
In my four years here at Babson, I’ve noticed a sea change in our students and their commitment to challenging the status quo. To be sure, Babson students have always been wired differently and can be counted on to be up to something exciting. But more and more, our students are asking questions about the future and have concerns for more than just financial value.
Both Cheryl and I have an open door policy for these students seeking advice to start new social impact clubs, conferences, dinners, competitions, and workshops. We know that students who are interested in creating social value are often not just looking for advice, but for connections to move their ideas forward. We enjoy creating pathways for students and amplifying their activities – connecting students to corporate partners, alumni, thought leaders, internship opportunities, nonprofit partners, and beyond. Initially, the students coming through our doors were mostly from the graduate school. But over the past year or so, more and more undergraduate students have been finding their way to us. To work with students thinking so strategically and seeing the world so clearly at such an early stage in their education and careers is incredibly inspiring.
One of the biggest connections I’ve been making for students these days is to connect with one another to build on each other’s ideas and impact. Even more exciting? These students are connecting the dots in ways I haven’t seen before.
Just over a week ago, I had the privilege of helping three first-year students launch Babson’s Undergraduate Chapter of Net Impact. Three first-year undergraduates were able to get 40 people to show up on a Friday at 3:30pm with nothing but the promise of good conversation and brownies from Greyston Bakery (a socially responsible business, of course). As we broke into small group discussions, I sat back and asked a handful of probing questions, while undergraduate students launched into deep conversations about everything from supply chain to human rights to environmental sustainability to diversity. More than half of these students were under the age of 20 and with just a little guidance and structure, were providing useful, insightful solutions to each other.
Additionally, our Good Business Fridays (GBF) have been attracting new and different people each week. Our last session on B Corps and Measuring Impact attracted 20 undergraduates. Again, not bad for a school with no Friday classes for undergraduates! Each week, we ask anyone attending GBF to share who they are and why they decided to come that day. And each week, I share the same sentiment…
I’m a generation older than most of the students who attend GBF, and my generation didn’t see the world in the same way that they do. We didn’t wrestle with the notion of creating economic and social value simultaneously. We thought that you either “sold your soul” to work for a major company and make money, or you left your financial aspirations behind to do something worthy for the world. We didn’t think about business as a force for good – at least not immediately. Many of us have found our way into careers that allow us to marry profit and purpose, but that definitely was not a lesson taught anywhere when I was in college.
I tell our students repeatedly how happy I am to see them tap into their passions and use the tools and assets of business to do something with it. The reputation of business school (and the old way of doing business) was to make as much money as possible, then be a philanthropist later in life. Today, things are different. Today, we expect more from companies and there are more ways than ever to gather information quickly and determine if a company is adding value to society. Our students are not only questioning the good of the companies where they plan to work, but they’re re-imagining how companies can be a force for good. And the best part is that they’re supporting and amplifying each other. I’m lucky and honored to help them along the way.