The “Arrogance” Corpsby Andrew Bryson on June 28, 2012
There was a noteworthy piece yesterday on Fast Company’s Co.Exist about how SP Jain, an Indian business school, is requiring their students to spend time volunteering in India’s slums to counter what they call the “Arrogance Problem.” In short, the premise is that the average MBA student has become too self-centered and that they are all sorely in need of gaining some greater perspective before entering the working world.
Since 2008, the school’s curriculum requires students to spend two to three hours every other weekend mentoring school-age children who live in slums. The program is seen as a win-win situation for everyone involved — the MBA students learn important lessons in empathy and humility, while the mentees receive guidance that has shown to improve the childrens’ grades and behavior.
From a business perspective, one of the more interesting lessons to come out of this program is that some of the MBA students are also acquiring meaningful insights for how markets operate for consumers at the base of the pyramid.
An interesting parallel to this program is the skills-based volunteering opportunities that many companies are starting to facilitate for their employees. One of the most frequently cited examples of this is the IBM’s Service Corps that was also launched in 2008. The focus of their program is to provide on-the-ground leadership development opportunities, while solving real problems for communities and organizations in emerging markets. Over 120 teams have gone on to do work in over 20 countries, ranging from a city planning project in Ho Chi Minh City to helping reform Kenya’s postal system. Most importantly for IBM, these projects have also proven to be both a great new business driver, as well as playing a central role in their ability to retain top talent.
While I definitely applaud the approach SP Jain has taken, I also think there is a real opportunity for their students to expand the impact of their volunteering efforts. By taking a page out of the Service Corp model, they could have their students focus on helping to develop the multitude of small enterprises that operate out of these slums. After spending some time in Dharavi last year, I was amazed at the number of small industries operating within it and how everyone I met was an entrepreneur of some sort.
Granted, many are that way more out of necessity than choice, but given some assistance and insights from some energetic MBAs, there is no reason to believe they can’t improve the prospects of their businesses. In my mind, this would create an even bigger winning equation, as students would get to wrestle with real-world business problems that would hopefully result in better businesses for the participants — and possibly result in a thriving economy for their country. It would be also be fascinating to explore how this approach could be adapted to fit into MBA programs in the U.S. and Europe, as some extra lessons in empathy and humility wouldn’t be a bad thing for our business leaders of tomorrow.
Image source: Korea Times via Reflections from India