Why are you laughing at my MBA?

This post has drawn a wide discussion among fellow twitterers. I was subsequently asked to share my ‘predicament’ on vault.com and forbes.com by Aman Singh. I have since gained tremendous amount of insights and encouragement from the CSR and Sustainability Twitter’s fellowship, for which I am immensely grateful!

Aman Singh is the Corporate Responsibility editor of vault.com. She has been selected as 2010’s Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behavior by Trust Across America. You will find her extremely amicable. Aman tweets at http://twitter.com/#!/AmanSinghCSR


I am an MBA candidate specialising in corporate social responsibility (CSR) in one of the top British school with sustainability or ESG (environment, social and governance) curriculum. The program allows a candidate to go for a general MBA or specialises in finance, entrepreneurship or CSR.

Few weeks into my 2nd term, an academia gave me this advice, in private. “Opt for the general ‘MBA’ title rather than ‘MBA in CSR'”, he said (while keeping the same modules I have chosen). The view was that I will have better career option. Most of us know that British are as diplomatic as diplomatic gets, it was possibly, a hint. I could think of two. One, that he does not think I have the right background to have a decent career in CSR. Two, he thought I will do better in other areas. I enjoy my lectures and research, but am nevertheless concerned with the point he raised. So, I started paying more attention to body language as well as verbal responses whenever I talk about an education in CSR, especially when making new contacts.

When I observed smothered cynicism, I pressed for their views, hoping to reason the skepticism out. Most of the views go down to the perception that people who believes in CSR or CR are disconnected from the ‘real’ world. That we are tree-huggers or socialists, who are delusional about what makes the world. Often, the professor in my private equity &  venture capital (my other areas of interest) class will teased the class whenever I am the first person who figured the numbers. He will say, “Ahh.. the CSR person!”.

It seemed to me that, there is a general perception that one who is concerned with CSR has no numerical skills nor business acumen. It may sounds egotistical, but I will take a leap of faith in you, that you will see that my exasperation does has it place. I had one of the highest score in finance, accounting and marketing in the program! Surely, I can not go around telling employers that, or do I have to?


A brief background of the MBA program in University of Nottingham:

The program is divided in three parts. During the first term, all candidates have to take core subjects: business economics, finance and accounting, operation management, strategies for business, organisational behaviour (it’s called managing people in our school), and marketing. The 2nd term, is when one takes 6 electives modules. If you choose to specialise in a specific area, you will have 3 compulsory modules in your chosen area. The 3rd and final term, is where you conduct your research and write the thesis.

Beyond Grey Pinstripes ranked University of Nottingham MBA in CSR 4th best in the ‘international school’ category.

The value of such a master program is that one can acquire knowledge and skills in general administration, which I personally find invaluable. Especially one that incorporate an international curriculum. Other than finance, my favourite module in the previous term was operations management – a subject I never know I would form passion for. LEAN, TQM, TOC, Supply chain management are just some examples of operations fundamentals that augment CSR to achieve double bottom line, yes?

Let me give you an example of how an MBA candidate can self-select to incorporate CSR study in an otherwise hard-nosed subject. I happened to be in group of 3 members who are also interested in CSR. We formed a group to study Microfinance. To make it an operations management project, we studied the use of technologies to reduce cost of operations in MFIs. Ta-dah. I can tell you that as I now focuses my study on CSR, the learning in operations management frequently pop up, helping me to see practical perspectives.


The author plans to write her thesis on corporate (social) responsibility in the private equity industry. In the UK, there are very few IPOs in the recent years since the financial crisis. Given that private equity has risen in scale in the UK (and globally), and the value proposition it offers (while some may disagree with), the author wonders if the motivations for CR in actors in private equity will be similar to those in public equity. If the aspirations of managers in private equity differs to those of listed firms, would we see a different type of CR subscription by private equity firms (or businesses backed by private equity), would they create a breed of CR?

What do you think?

6 Responses to “Why are you laughing at my MBA?”
  1. Dear Catherine,

    Please do visit my site link Rankings, RoI & #CSR Function – Response to 3 Challenges for CSR Executives – of VaultCSR http://wp.me/p18MVb-9x . B-Schools have to change their syllabus for emergence of #CSR You may read my response to a good topic from Vault.com: The 2011 CSR Debate, Part 1: CSR Is an Evolution, Not a Revolution http://bit.ly/gauJ4f My site has several topics on this subject that you may have a look at for your academic dissertation.

    Shortly I should be issuing a White paper on this subject that is under preparation. Your university is welcome to discuss with me re. the employment opportunities for MBA on CSR that would surely be far ahead of any other profession during the 21st Century in my reckoning.

    • Catherine Chong says:

      Dear Jayaraman,

      First of all, thank you so much for your comment and sharing of your articles.
      The “3 challenges for CSR executives” you wrote responded to my concern! And more so, raises more questions for me to reflect on.

      Promise me that you will share your white paper with us, when you are ready.
      I must say, it is heart-warming to meet the community of CSR on Tweeter and Vault.com, generous in their sharing and passionate in their convictions. I cannot possibly feel more humble and fortunate.

  2. aequology says:

    Hello Catherine! Your “cri du coeur” is so true. As I was asking in my RT of your post on Tweeter, will B-Schools learn anything from the current financial crisis? Not too much it seems…
    MBAs were originally designed at the end of the 19th century as a “professionalization” instrument to prepare managers of large corporations to lead them for the public’s good, not for short-term gains.
    Unfortunately, the dominance of economics by the neoclassical school in the 1980’s imposed the idea that managers are free agents who should continually seek their highest incomes with no loyalty to their employers and no social responsibility. Ignoring or laughing at the teaching of ethics and values-based leadership is the type of thinking that got us into so much trouble today. Will we ever learn?

    • Catherine Chong says:

      Hi Frederic.

      (A number of) B-schools are seeing the importance of integrating ‘sustainabilty’ agenda I into their programs, hence we see the increase of MBAs with CSR specialisation. The school I attended is the first in UK that offers a specialisation in CSR in their MBA program.

      The point I was trying to make is that there is a perception that individual who are concerned with (and thus go as far as studying) CSR are people who has little business sense. B-schools do not exist in vacuum. A friend, whom I would say is an informed member of the society, cried “there is a MBA in CSR? Do you need to study CSR? Isn’t it all about charities” when I share my findings when I was researching on MBAs.

      The advice given to me, I reckon is one that concerned specifically, with the perception of employers. In my case, I am as gung-ho about commerce as I am with CSR, with all the respect to NGOs, I see my learning adding value to enterprises.

      One would think that with the post-mortem of the bank & sovereign crisis, we would see (more of)the urgency of individuals to sign up to the concept of sustainability. And that other industry too, felt the tremors and start reflecting the damage irresponsibility caused. Our school make one sustainabilty in business module compulsory to all MBA students, regardless of specialisation. It is to be seen if individuals who are never concerned with CSR would actually change to be more concerned thereafter. Can we change perception? I realised that, because we believe in CSR, we assumed that people should -expecting that they experience the same learning as we did. Which is why, I became more interested to understand the nay-sayers.

      Yes, the feed back I received so far are mixed. There are sceptics of CSR in academic, biz, and within the public as well. In some cases, rightly so. But you and I are hopeful, aren’t we? Take the community of CSR on Twitter for example, I’m never more grateful of the learning everyone have afforded me so far, some of them are profesional and enterprising individuals like yourself.

      As for B-schools, I think perhaps PG students have as much role to play in giving a voice to encourage take up with sustainability agenda in the business world. Also, when more employers demand for candidates with CSR and ESG academic background to fill up non CSR core jobs like finance and marketing, then we will see more B-schools delivering CSR and ESG curriculum.

      • aequology says:

        Yes, you’re absolutely right, I’m far more hopeful than my comment might sound :). I’m sure that many MBAs see the interest, and benefits of teaching values-based leadership, sustainability and ethics. And skepticism is something that CSR practitioners meet frequently not only among neoclassical but also among anti corporations followers. The former because they believe that CSR is illegal and the latter because they think it’s insincere. But, there’s also a large majority a people that believe that companies can do good, by taking initiatives that go beyond business as usual and contribute to sustainable development. Yes, you and I are among them 🙂

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  1. […] and governance) curriculum in the UK, shared  on her blog a “cri du coeur”. Titled Why are you laughing at my MBA?, she explains how a member of the academic staff gave her the advice, in private, to take the […]

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