By Anna Merlan
By Albert Samaha
By Tessa Stuart
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As part of her MBA coursework at New York University, Jennifer Tsai is spending time in India to improve nutrition among pregnant women. If this doesnt sound like the traditional MBA path, thats the point.
This is a dream come true for me, says Tsai, who, before enrolling at NYU, spent five years as a public health consultant to nonprofits. I saw a gap in business acumen in my field. I felt I could do things better if I had business knowledge.
Not so long ago, pundits blamed business schools for promoting the Greed is good philosophy that contributed to the worst recession since the Great Depression. The Times of London even suggested that a Harvard MBA now stood for Masters of the Business Apocalypse.
But a quiet revolution has been unfolding at business schools over the last decade, as students have flocked to courses in subjects like corporate social responsibility, environmental sustainability, social venture capital, microfinance, and global poverty alleviation.
It reflects a generational shift in thinking, says Sandra Navalli, director of the Social Enterprise Program at Columbia Business School. In 2000, maybe 50 students in the whole business school were interested in this area. Today, she says, 45 percent of Columbias 1,400 full-time students are taking classes that aim to apply the strategies of profit-making to achieving social goals.
Ten years ago, people were still questioning, Why should companies think about sustainability or corporate responsibility? says Navalli. I think the question has really changed from Should companies do it? to How do companies do it?
The new wave in social enterprise programs grew up with the boom in sustainability, or green, MBAs. But David Berdish, manager of social sustainability at Ford Motor Company and a lecturer at the University of Michigans business school, complains that the initial sustainability programs produced some truly green graduates.
I get frustrated when schools say they have a sustainability curriculum, but its really only an environmental one, says Berdish. My biggest frustration is that students dont know more about basic human rights, international tensions, and some of the problems in the supply chain regardless of whether the product is green or not.
For instance, Berdish points out that the automobile industry has been pressed to produce cars powered by lithium batteries, but there hasnt been corresponding pressure on lithium-producing countries like the Congo and Bolivia to clean up corruption, harmful mining operations, and dangerous working conditions. Companies can make a difference in these areas by insisting on positive changes, he argues, but MBA programs need to train students to look beyond topics like carbon footprint reduction to consider the human dimensions of sustainability.
Sustainability is more than environmentalism, he says. Even though youre working on green technology that reduces ozone and greenhouse gas emissions, if people are being exploited, then youre not exactly sustainable. Theres a direct correlation between product quality and workplace health and safety. I cant put an actual dollar figure to it, but I know it gets us something.
Putting Ideas to Work
The name Social Enterprise was chosen for Columbias program, explains Navalli, because we really mean using the business or management-leadership skills to achieve social or environmental outcomes. There are thousands of great ideas, but actually very few of them are implemented well.
Perhaps the most successful social venture to come out of Columbia was started in entrepreneurship classes. RecycleBank is a seven-year-old company that rewards people for recycling by giving them coupons for local businesses. Co-founded by Columbia MBA graduate Ron Gonen, the firm now services two million households in nine states. Municipalities like Philadelphia, Houston, and Cherry Hill, New Jersey, are paying RecycleBank to help divert waste from landfills and incinerators. The company also gets paid by recycling plants for the recycled materials.
The goal is to create systems in which its financially attractive for people to follow the proper behavior, says Gonen, who now teaches at Columbia and also invests in other sustainable businesses. I want people to recognize that eco is as much a part of ecology as it is a part of economy, and that the smart environmental decision is also the smart economic decision.
RecycleBank began with the help of $100,000 in seed money from Columbia. The school has done well on its investment, Gonen says. They recently sold half of their equity for over $600,000, and they still have half of their equity left in the company.
Columbia has also invested in Ecovention, a food-packaging firm co-founded by recent MBA grad Jennifer Wright. The company attracted a lot of media attention for its Green Box, a cardboard pizza box with a top that breaks down into serving plates and a bottom that converts into a storage container. (One client is Whole Foods.) Like Gonen, Wright used her Columbia course time to develop a business plan. From the day I finished classes, we were up and running, she says.
These businesses occupy a sweet spot for social ventures, where whats good for the companys bottom line is also good for the environment. But social enterprise programs also try to put people into existing corporations and government agencies, which have more resources, and consequently a bigger impact, than social start-up ventures.
I think a quick look at her social pages and a word with two other students at Stern say that there is only one Miss Jennifer Tsai at Stern, and it is the same person. Perhaps you should consider another career, as journalism seems doesn't seem to be right for you.
I just tried a "quick look," and I don't find her. (Of course, I don't know "two other students at Stern.") But I, for one, don't see what difference it makes -- if it is her. This story is about using business approaches to social problems. How does the fact that she's worked at a bank change that? Maybe more importantly, what do you have against her, Andy.S? Did she turn you down?
Don't you find it amusing when trolls demean others as "trolls"? But, obviously, Andy S., you must like to demean -- you're reading too much into this story. It doesn't try to "deliberately detract" from anything, because the information you raise is irrelevant, just like the rest of your pissy comments.
William, can anyone else help it if you can't research to save your mother from a burning fire.
As to your accusation dear troll, first, the problem is not with Jennifer Tsai, (whom I would never date, and have never asked) but with the so-called author of this piece of junk, for example "Jennifer Tsai.... who, before enrolling at NYU, spent five years as a public health consultant to nonprofits." This statement is couched in such a way as to deliberately detract from the fact that she was never a "consultant" but has always been rather, a hungry leech of a financier, looking to exploit people and ideas in the name of "sustainable." They look for a market needs within vulnerable populations, such as vitamins for pregnant Indian women, then look to fund product development in order to leverage into those (huge) populations. What it does, is provides false hope and no help to the populations concerned.
The author tries to justify all of this nonsense with sickly comments such as "“I saw a gap in business acumen in my field. I felt I could do things better if I had business knowledge.” Jennifer Tsai has nothing but her bankster lords interest at heart, and it disgusts me to think that there were far more worthy people to highlight. Instead of which we get lazy journalism and fake activism.
Officially, Tsai is a "Product Management Associate" for JP Morgan Chase. Look closer before you criticize others for what they know, William.
Interesting article, but isn't Jennifer Tsai a banker, now working as a "Product Management Associate" at JP Morgan Chase? Hasn't she, in fact, worked for 6 banks since her time at NYU Stern? It certainly puts a different light on the author inferring that the people in this article are trying to save the world!....
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