It’s 8 AM on Saturday, and an odd collection of people is assembled at Eastern University’s Center City location at 1601 Market. Among those at the table are a human rights worker, an army chaplain, a strategist who left his corporate job to work for anti-poverty non-profits and a biker who is known to give rides to Amish folks in his community when they need a lift. They’re here for one of Eastern’s quarterly residencies, which brings students in the Social Impact MBA cohort from as far as East Asia and as near as Lancaster County.
This unique MBA was designed to allow those with a business background to delve into the extremely relevant questions of governance and sustainability that all enterprises face. However, the program has attracted people with a very eclectic mix of backgrounds, and those coming to the MBA from community and nonprofit work are working to gain a foundational understanding of the for-profit world. And that’s not always easy. Whitney Dickey, who was working on racial reconciliation in South Africa before she joined the cohort says that the toughest part for her has been understanding the logic of finance and accounting. “However,” she says “It has definitely made me appreciate those who have a knack for it.”
This kind of empathy across perspectives is exactly what Eastern’s faculty are hoping to offer. Dr. Christa Lee-Chuvala, who helped to conceive the program hopes that students will be able to think critically about business practice, and about sustainability. That’s why she’s worked to make the program as experiential as possible and to give students opportunities to meet with businesses that keep sustainability at the forefront of their strategies, such as Saxbys and B Corporation.
“I have really appreciated the practical elements introduced to us through businesses and employers in the Philadelphia area,” says Dickey. “I have learned a tremendous amount when partnering concepts that we are thinking through in class with on the groundwork being done in the local economy.”
Grappling with the natural tension between the needs of stakeholders and shareholders is central to the cohort’s study. “The world is shifting – for the good – towards placing focus on stakeholder value,” asserts Yan Zhang, who travels to the quarterly residencies from East Asia. “But we can’t ignore the need to generate profits in order to survive and continue to care for our stakeholders. How do we tear down barriers that divide us and maximize value for both our shareholders and stakeholders well?”
There are no easy answers, but these MBA students grapple with the question on a deeply critical level and feel optimistic about integrating principals of positive social impact into the business world.