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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I'm not cursing about the MBA Oath

Four months ago, I authored my own opinion of the MBA Oath, a project launched by members of the Harvard Business School's graduating class. The MBA Oath follows the medical Hippocratic Oath where MBA's sign the oath and pledge to "create value responsibly and ethically".

My post about the MBA Oath was somewhat critical. Prior to business school, I was a social worker and during business school I was very active in volunteer programs, Net Impact, and was elected the social conscience of my class (not really but just painting a picture). I was very concerned that the HBS students were capitalizing on the national movement towards service and good citizenship and was not confident about their commitment to what they preached. The last thing that we (we meaning any MBA with a serious track record in being a responsible member of society) was a short-lived movement that would provide a shining example of how MBA's were not really serious about social change, had an average attention span, and were just as opportunistic as ever. To underscore this point, I submitted my blog post to the MBA Oath essay contest. To their credit, they promptly thanked me for my entry.

Four months later and with 1,661 signers of the MBA Oath, I have to give the MBA Oath creators respect and credit. Their blog is updated and they have capitalized on their marketing success with a long-term vision of creating different chapters on different campuses. The Economist still mentions the oath in its articles about business school. I had assumed/hoped that the creators of the oath had a track record in social responsibility but the proved it. Students and alumni are still signing the oath and it appears to have carved out a niche with the potential to trigger bigger change. I'm also not concerned about the nuances of the oath and the questions about whether managers have a social responsibility. As citizens of a warming planet with growing inequities, we all have a responsibility and the oath provides an outlet for MBA's. There is still the curse of potential but I'm not cursing about the Oath creators' potential anymore.

Instead, I curse about the lack of participation by certain MBA programs. First, I have praise for Kellogg, NYU, Oxford Said, and the Singapore Management University who have the most signers outside of the HBS (half the signers graduated from Harvard). The students and alumni of these 5 schools have made the commitment and publicly acknowledged the importance of the principles of the oath. What makes it more remarkable as how different these schools are from each other as support of the oath seems to be the only thing in common. My own institution, Wharton, has an abysmal performance with only 20 signatures despite some direct outreach efforts.

I hope that employers and recruiters who value the principles of the oath reward and honor those schools and its graduates accordingly.

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