Prateek Jha, ESSEC Business School MiM student, and finalist in the CoBS 2022 student CSR article competition, contends that business schools can provide a unique contribution to building back better post-COVID and winning the battle against social vulnerability.
2022: A Social Odyssey by Prateek Jha.
“Wars of nations are fought to change maps. But wars of poverty are fought to map change.” Muhammad Ali shuffled around simple words with this quote but left an upsetting but powerful remark on the state of the world, which is even more relevant today. Any large-scale disaster has the appalling potential to severely change the state of a country and introduce a ginormous scale of ‘external stresses’.
The COVID pandemic has had far-reaching consequences, not only drastically affecting the global economy, but also challenging the perseverance and mental strength of all on this planet. It has unexpectedly weakened our very foundation, making us susceptible to increased suffering and economic losses as a global nation. As we distantly point towards the light at the end of the tunnel, there are many who have not been as fortunate. The past couple of years have left people economically, mentally, and especially socially vulnerable.
The battle against the pandemic has been that of humanity as a whole. Our responsibility is to not leave behind any segment of society, especially those which might have now become too fatigued to even ask for our help. This begs the question: what can business schools, with their ample resources and concentration of bright minds, do in order to address the situation?
The 2022 Odyssey: Some are more equal than others
Social vulnerability is one of the few dimensions of vulnerability to which the community is a victim, especially due to the long-lasting effects of the ongoing pandemic. These can have repercussions such as abject poverty, social exclusion, and severe damage to mental health.
However, assessing root causes for variations in levels of these impacts is complex as they are a complex interplay of social interactions, communities, government policies, and culture. The social vulnerability index (SVI) has been a key indicator and a pragmatic tool to assess the impact of the Covid pandemic on respective populations. Recent research in several countries has clearly shown a higher SVI independently associated with higher Covid incidence. “Certain populations (i.e. communities that are racialized, have older age structures and/or lower socioeconomic status) have been disproportionately impacted with greater mortality and morbidity, while also being under-resourced to manage the pandemic response” (Source: Jasmine C., Melissa K., 2022).
Upon further inspection, it is found that key factors that further complicate and multiply the situation are socioeconomic status, housing condition, and minority status. As the pandemic brutally enhances this disparity within populations of rich and struggling economies alike, the need for immediate action increases. Business schools emerge as central players in this turmoil as they are very well equipped with academic, financial, professional, as well as social tools to bridge the gap and close this disparity. There is an apparent void in the social construct which needs to be metamorphosed not just for the near future but in the larger scheme of how humanity will operate in the next several decades.
To bring these revolutionary changes, individuals with creative and innovative mindsets must be brought to the forefront, and business schools can provide them with the right tools and direction to ‘map this change’, as Ali mentioned.
Too many cooks save the broth
Business schools must acknowledge their role and responsibility as social entities to address this issue. To take centre stage, these universities can help bridge the gap between businesses, communities, and the government. Business schools are evidently the intermediary between communities and governments that can provide innovative and contemporary solutions. With their resources and widespread networks, it is very feasible for business schools to mobilise resources in a prompt, efficient, and planned manner.
With a unique business-minded perspective, it is plausible that business schools can better identify key stakeholders, as well as provide a clearer picture of the needs and expectations of these stakeholders in the community. Once they have broken down the problem and assessed the impact of the pandemic, effective strategies can be brought into place to help guide communities and governments alike. These strategies should involve identifying access barriers to the socially vulnerable section of the community and consequently targeting them efficiently. This will be even more effective when business schools around the globe work in unison by solving the problem based on knowledge sharing and collective research.
It is no surprise that business schools are hubs for inspired innovations. These higher education institutions efficiently provide the resources and entrepreneurial labs to build an organisation from scratch. However, there isn’t much focus or mass motivation to envision social enterprises at such labs. Business schools can provide incentives and build motivations for such social enterprises from this grassroots level. Social enterprises have a huge role to play in bringing social impact, moulding public opinions and perspectives, and most importantly, influencing government laws and policies that directly affect the underprivileged. Therefore, it is the need of the hour that business schools encourage and incentivize creating more and more startups that work to bring social impact.
These entrepreneurial labs can even promote smaller enterprises or organisations which are not necessarily started with an aim of becoming a full-fledged company but with a motive of bringing a small change. These need to be more in terms of quantity and address micro-issues that can collectively bring a larger impact. They can mobilise resources, as well as employ a large number of people who are now without jobs due to the pandemic. Overall, these social enterprises built by business school students, will have an innovative and modern approach to the issues of social vulnerability and poverty in the community by working together with big actors such as rich enterprises and government organisations.
Great powers, great responsibilities
If we step further inside a business school, we get a glance at how these students are indeed the leaders of tomorrow in the making. A clear responsibility arises for these institutions to build leaders who are conscious of the need for reducing social vulnerability and bringing a larger change to the community. These students need to be moulded with the vision and innovative mindset to tackle more than just business problems. They need to inculcate the drive to address social issues with a purpose and vision for the longer future. These future leaders will spread out in diverse industries with different responsibilities.
It is important that they are conscious of existent social vulnerability so that they become the secondary source of knowledge for the companies they work in and inspire social change from there onwards. These students can even play a key role in lifting the local communities by being actively involved with local players, such as local investors, wholesalers, and government bodies. Consequently, they can come up with self-sustaining models that can create temporary jobs much more quickly. This will facilitate the communication of information from the communities to the governing bodies, who can bring change at the policy level.
Onward and upward: 2022 and beyond – the Odyssey
Social entrepreneurship is becoming a business fad, but much slower than we would like. To bring together all the actors involved, there needs to be rapid action that is free from bureaucracy and financial motives. An effective, inspired, and socially motivated objective inculcated in the core values of business schools has the potential to bring about a much larger impact than what each individual actor is currently doing.
By taking charge and acknowledging their key role in this significant initiative, business schools can create proper frameworks and lay down the path for future leaders. Addressing social vulnerability and poverty is a long road and to ensure that the leaders for many more generations to come are well-equipped, social entrepreneurship and innovative social strategies must become the norm for their journey.
- Link up with Prateek Jha on LinkedIn
- Read a related article: Concrete solutions to #buildbackbetter
- Discover ESSEC Business School France-Singapore-Morocco
- Apply for the ESSEC Global MBA or ESSEC & Mannheim EMBA.
Learn more about the Council on Business & Society
The Council on Business & Society (The CoBS), visionary in its conception and purpose, was created in 2011, and is dedicated to promoting responsible leadership and tackling issues at the crossroads of business and society including sustainability, diversity, ethical leadership and the place responsible business has to play in contributing to the common good.
Member schools are all “Triple Crown” accredited AACSB, EQUIS and AMBA and leaders in their respective countries.
- ESSEC Business School, France-Singapore-Morocco
- FGV-EAESP, Brazil
- School of Management Fudan University, China
- IE Business School, Spain
- Keio Business School, Japan
- Stellenbosch Business School, South Africa
- Trinity Business School, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland
- Warwick Business School, United Kingdom.