As the stereotype goes, business students are supposed to be single-minded in their career goals: making money, more money and still more money.
But don’t tell that to Daron Horwitz, who spent his spring break in Iraq — visiting schools that will be helped by a nonprofit group he and a small group of students formed at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
Experts say they’re part of a new breed of MBA student, influenced by everything from corporate scandal to the dot-com bust to concerns over the effects of globalization on everyday people. They also note that the curriculum at business schools across the country has been changing in recent years, placing more emphasis on ethics, nonprofit work and "corporate social responsibility."
"Our data suggests that the students are more interested in thinking about the role of business in society … and as a generation, are saying ‘We want to do a better job,"’ said Nancy McGaw, deputy director of the New York-based Aspen Institute Business and Society Program, which has been tracking the trend.
Every two years since the late ’90s, her organization and another called the World Resources Institute have surveyed business schools and students worldwide for a report titled "Beyond Grey Pinstripes." She said the most marked growth in MBA programs emphasizing "social and environmental stewardship" came between the 2001 survey and the most recent, completed last year.
For Horwitz, the Northwestern student, the inspiration to start a nonprofit came a year ago, after the fall of Baghdad.
"I was watching this historic moment on TV and wanting to make some sort of contribution," said the 29-year-old, who also earned a law degree at Northwestern.
Soon after, he was approaching his peers to help him form their organization, Americans Supporting Iraqi Students, or AMSIS.
They’ve done all the work to form their nonprofit in their free time — including securing a large corporate sponsor, which has yet to be named publicly.
"Whichever side of the war you’re on — whether for or against — it’s an easy rallying cry," said Yaser Moustafa, a 28-year-old MBA student whose duties have included raising funds for the organization in Arab-American communities. The money they raise goes directly to a relief organization called Mercy Corps, which is helping students and schools amid the turmoil in Iraq.
Other MBA students elsewhere say they, too, want to use their degrees to make a difference.
Stephani Kobayashi Stevenson, for instance, made the decision to attend business school while she was volunteering with the Peace Corps in Papua New Guinea.
"It changed my life to see the devastating effects of globalization, as well as the ramifications of poor business decisions," said Stevenson, who is 28 and a first-year MBA student at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.
She’s also a leader of her school’s chapter of Net Impact, a group for MBAs that is dedicated to "using the power of business to create a better world."
Meanwhile, Christina Murray — who’ll graduate this spring with her MBA from Babson College in Wellesley, Mass. — has accepted a job at Project Place, a Boston nonprofit that helps homeless and low-income people find jobs and housing. She’ll be director of "enterprise operations," overseeing vending machine and outdoor maintenance businesses.
Murray said she used to think that her business background would be a liability in the nonprofit world. But she soon discovered that, especially as the economy faltered, charitable organizations are increasingly looking for business types to help them survive.
She also said the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks helped her and many of her peers make their career decisions.
"These events propelled people off the treadmill of life — and they began to think about others," she said.
Increasingly, business schools are responding.
Northwestern has opened the Center for Business, Government and Society, which is working with the AMSIS students and another group that is looking for ways to provide affordable medical devices to test for HIV in sub-Saharan Africa.
Daniel Diermeier is the center’s director and a professor at Kellogg.
"More and more students are interested in addressing social problems — but they want to do it in an innovative way. They want to do it in a way that has impact, that is efficient," Diermeier said. "As faculty, it’s important for us to be facilitators, to be catalysts for this energy.
"This is the stuff they remember."