How has Covid-19 and remote working changed millennials?

Organisations should not presume that offices can reopen, and millennial employees can return to work in the way they did prior to social distancing, say Trinity Business School’s Christine Zdelar and Michelle MacMahon

Millennials represent the largest segment of today’s working population. They have been at the centre of an ever-growing body of research for at least a decade – but millennials in the workforce can be best understood through the lens of technology.

As the world’s first digitally native generation, millennials’ tech-saturated upbringing has made the group distinct from the older generations that preceded them. And while some may view millennials’ behaviour as a sign of collective human progress, others see this in a more pessimistic light. Either way, the generation can be best understood from the perspective of the environmental circumstances that shaped them: the growth of technology.

Whatever people may say about them, millennials walk to their own beat and are revolutionising work culture. Managers must therefore acknowledge their workstyles and preferences.

Yet, managers often struggle with millennials that expect flexible work schedules and prioritise their work-life balance, as well as the reality that maintaining millennial engagement requires organisations to improve and adapt on a continuous basis. If you Google ‘millennial employees’, you’ll find a deluge of articles with advice about how to manage them. Nonetheless, millennials have a strong desire to connect with their organisations and do great work within them.

Death of the traditional office?

But as Covid-19 has forced businesses across the globe to work remotely, new data suggests that this could be the ‘new normal’, killing the traditional office as we know it. Large proportions of the adult population have been working from home during the lockdown restrictions. Now that everyone has had a taste of working from home, the workplace of the future is likely to never look the same again.

But how is this change affecting the technology-savvy millennial employee? How are they adapting to the collision of work and home? Together with my Trinity Business School colleague, Michelle MacMahon, we decided to find out.

In our investigation, we conducted semi-structured interviews with a sample of millennials to explain how ‘sensemaking’ tactics facilitate the relationship between ‘transactional distance’ and work performance. Transactional distance is the physical and psychological separation between the employer and their work. Dialogue, structure, and autonomy are considered to be key components of the transactional distance theory.

Interviewing millennials allowed us to investigate the impact of transactional distance on work performance even for a category of worker that typically prefers technology as the medium of communication. 

Sensemaking and adapting to new circumstances

We viewed this relationship through the lens of sensemaking, which has been described by Ross School of Business’s Karl Weick, as ‘creative authoring on the part of individuals who construct meaning from initially puzzling and sometimes troubling data.’ The tactics and process of sensemaking helps the sensemaker sift through ambiguity confronted in an unfamiliar situation and take action in order to move forward.

In analysing the data, three properties of sensemaking; socialisation, enactment, and cue recognition appear within the patterns identified from participant interviews. However, a fourth property which was not initially anticipated, identity construction, was also revealed during the interviews.

As people encounter new situations, they will construct and assume an identity they feel is an appropriate response to the event, basing their actions and decisions on who they believe themselves to be. By labelling oneself with a particular identity, the sensemaker can proceed in attempting to solve the ‘ongoing puzzle’ that is sensemaking, utilising that identity.

Utilising sensemaking tactics allows millennials to adjust to their circumstances. In some cases, it even helps them find new efficiencies as a result of transactional distance. For example, identity construction and enactment are illustrated by an employee labelling herself as ‘somebody that’s been able to bring people together from a virtual space’ and then taking on the extra responsibility of leading virtual check-ins. Socialisation and enactment are observed when an employee describes adapting the process of communicating with her manager: by packaging and sending messages in bulk, this employee learned she would receive a more complete response, just perhaps later in the day, increasing her overall productivity and improving the ability to manage her expectations.

Therefore, we found that millennial employees not only rely on sensemaking tactics such as socialisation, enactment, and cue recognition, but also on grounding themselves with particular identities in order to make sense of and adapt to their new remote working environments, self-regulating the potential negative effects of the distance.

Links to organisational change

While investigating how millennials creatively reauthor their situation and confront ambiguity we also found that their sensemaking process closely mirrored Lewin’s model for organisational change.

Lewin’s model represents a very simple and practical framework for understanding the change process and involves three steps: unfreezing, changing and refreezing. For Lewin, the process of change entails creating the perception that a change is needed, moving towards the new, desired level of behaviour and finally, solidifying that new behaviour as the norm. These three phases align closely with the three phases of sensemaking, defined as superficial simplicity, confused complexity, and profound simplicity. In other words, millennial employees have acknowledged the complex situation they find themselves in and used sensemaking tactics in order sift through the mess and overcome the effects of distance and form their new normal. This sensemaking process has had such a profound impact on millennials that we believe this cohort has genuinely undergone a longstanding model for explaining change.

Working with the new reality

Ultimately, this development of a new normal has profound implications for how organisations plan to resume ‘business as usual’ once the health threat of the pandemic subsides and social distancing measures loosen. For organisations to presume that offices can reopen, and millennial employees can return to work operating as they did prior to social distancing, would be to disregard the new reality that millennial employees are experiencing.

Lockdown has potentially changed the way millennials work forever and we believe our research reveals how the pandemic has created a new state of working that makes going back to the way we worked before extremely challenging for organisations. Given that millennials view technology as a functional necessity, not a modern convenience, and have undergone the sensemaking process to adapt to their new working environment, perhaps we can learn a great deal from this category of worker and their ability to make sense of our new reality – a socially distanced world.

Christine Zdelar is an MSc student and Research Assistant at Trinity Business School. She is also Senior Product Manager at mobile phone service, Ding.com.  

Michelle MacMahon is a Research Fellow at Trinity Business School, having completed a PhD in organisational behaviour at the School in 2019.

Winning at interview and preparing for AI-infused recruitment

If your CV was good enough to get you an interview, that’s great, but looking good on paper is just the starting point. At interview, you have to demonstrate that you have the skills to do the job and will be a good fit with the team.

Your audition

An interview is an audition – your opportunity to shine and prove you are the perfect person for the role. The actor Harlan Hogan is famous for delivering the catchphrase, ‘you never get a second chance to make a first impression…’ and it certainly pays to be well prepared.

The interview is not, however, just an exercise in self-promotion. The hiring manager has a specific brief and, in effect, you are there to convince the interviewer that you can solve their hiring problem. An interviewer will focus on gaining an understanding of you and your motivation and how these fit with the role, existing team and organisational culture.

Be prepared to show how you will add value and that you are the best candidate to help the organisation succeed. When you are asked to tell the interviewer about yourself, what this request really means is that you should show ‘what value would you bring to us?’

Thorough preparation and the way in which you present yourself are crucial to success; but, since performance at interview is not a reliable indicator of job performance, interviews these days tend to be quite structured and often concentrate on competencies with targeted behavioural questions.

The basics

Clarity and brevity are your touchstones. Show you are articulate and able to think on your feet while communicating effectively under pressure. Be ready to provide work-related examples that show your personality and how you operate and illustrate that you will be a good fit in the role. Ensure you pinpoint your strengths and expertise and emphasise your points with examples that showcase your achievements. Show how you will make a real difference when you are appointed.

You may be asked some tricky questions as interviewers probe to assess how you react. Keep your answers concise and relevant. You are likely to be asked competency-based questions relating to your previous roles, so make sure you have plenty of examples prepared.

Employability skills are also an important factor for success at work and showing that you have these skills and focusing on them during the interview process, along with your technical expertise, will help differentiate yourself from the competition. Concentrate on showcasing good communication skills, commercial awareness, a commitment to lifelong learning, problem-solving skills, and professional manner and attitude.

Demonstrating your skills at interview is not easy and we all have ‘off days’ but interview practice will help. If you can, get a friend, colleague, career coach or mentor to help with some sessions to rehearse your responses, improve your confidence and hone your performance.

The changing face of recruitment

HR now use robotics to enhance and expedite the recruitment process and leave hiring managers free to concentrate on more complex tasks. AI is supposed to remove human biases that adversely affect some candidates and it seems that nearly all Fortune 500 companies are using some form of automation to enhance hiring processes.

It’s interesting to consider what changes job seekers are likely to see as robots are used in the interview process more often. A large Swedish recruitment specialist, TNG, has been experimenting with such a system to offer candidates job interviews that are free from the unconscious biases that managers and recruiters may bring to the hiring process. The idea is to make the experience ‘seem human’ while ‘background-blind’ AI programmes manage tests and perform initial online interviews.

The robot interview doesn’t indulge in pre-interview small talk and asks all questions in an identical way, in the same tone, and typically, in the same order. This is believed to create a fairer and more objective interview. Recruiting managers are then provided with transcripts of the interviews so they can decide which candidates to move to the next stage of the process, based on their answers alone.

Impressing the algorithm

Interviewees can’t relax too much in this context as the AI programme records and analyses responses, and where there is a video interface, monitors facial expressions. Some candidates will find they are comfortable with such an interview, as they will perceive it as a non-judgmental, non-threatening and non-invasive means of interaction which affords them scope for presenting themselves in a relaxed manner. Others may find talking to a screen and recording their answers more challenging.

There is some discussion around the issue of bias and AI. After all, the algorithms at work here are programmed by people who have flaws, biases and preconceptions that are all too easily inherited by an AI system. That said, many candidates seem happy with these developments. Randstad, a Dutch multinational recruitment firm, found that a majority of US job candidates believe technology, AI included, has made applying for jobs more efficient. These same candidates also felt more respected and engaged in the recruitment process as they received automated updates.

Impressing a robot at interview may require candidates to adjust their focus. Answering questions that will be analysed by an algorithm means your responses must focus on the job specification, using words and phrases directly related to the role. You cannot rely on building rapport with the interviewer because a robot is not interested in bonding with you. It will still be important to be well prepared for the interview, having read not just the job description but also the organisation’s website information to see what qualities they prioritise and the culture they portray.

The plain fact is that a robot can interview many more candidates per day than a person can and will also review a candidate’s social networking activity thoroughly and quickly. At least in the early stages of the recruitment process, we are likely to see automated AI powered systems being used as a matter of course. Whether the interviewer is human or machine it remains important that the applicant makes a good impression.

Liz Sebag-Montefiore is a Director and Co-Founder of career management firm, 10Eighty and has provided HR solutions to a wide range of industries since 2005.

7 tips for thriving in your workplace

For recent graduates and professionals seeking their first real taste of working life, thriving in your workplace is vital. After all, this is the first step in what will be an illustrious career for you, so you want to make it count by being the best you can be.

Truly thriving in your workplace can also only increase your job security, help you network internally, raise your confidence and help with career progression down the line.

Here are a few tips for those who are looking to maximise their chances of thriving in the workplace:

1. Set up quarterly targets with your manager

In some industries, like sales, your performance will be entirely measured on targets. However, why not set some individual professional goals to achieve with your manager too? These are ones that you won’t share with the rest of the office.

It’s always good to have something to work towards and it should ensure that you are constantly developing. Plus, you’re bound to work more efficiently and with more motivation if you’re chasing a goal, rather than simply praying that the clock hands move faster.

2. Write out daily and weekly targets

Setting more frequent goals is an excellent way to motivate yourself. Each Monday morning, for example, you could set out what you want to achieve for the rest of the week.

The best part is, these goals don’t even have to be work-related. They can include something as simple as talking to your colleagues at lunch in order to improve your working relationships or using your break to walk around a park and get some fresh air.

Writing out a to-do list each morning, meanwhile, can keep you organised and on top of your tasks for the day. It also helps you to see where you might have free time to ask for more work. Organisation is a key strength you need in order to thrive at work.

3. Work with your colleagues

If you’re an introvert, this can be difficult. However, working alongside your colleagues can play a huge part in not only enjoying your job, but perhaps thriving in your role too. 

For recent graduates, this is likely going to be your first experience of a full-time working environment. You don’t want your first proper job to be awful, do you? This is the start of your career, so you need to hit the ground running.

Show your colleagues that you aren’t a deer caught in headlights and offer your knowledge and insight into projects. Plus, don’t be too proud to ask for help or to work on certain tasks in the first few months. This will enable you to bounce ideas off your colleagues, gain some invaluable knowledge of how tasks are completed and start building a strong professional network.

4. Lead meetings or projects

For recent graduates, confidence in your new role is key. From the very start, you want to show that you belong in this environment and you’re far more likely to thrive in your workplace if you feel confident.

You’re never going to gain leadership skills by taking a back seat. So, why not take some initiative and put yourself forward? Whether this is asking to lead meetings, client calls or projects, putting yourself in these positions is an excellent way to acclimatise yourself to working life. It also sets you up nicely for career progression too!

5. Hone your key skills

If you’re good at something, whether that’s a certain task or use of a specific software, demonstrate your ability. When starting a new job, doing something you know you’re good at will fill you with confidence.

What’s more, you may become the go-to person in the office that people come to when they need help with a task you’re proficiently skilled at. This will ensure you thrive in your workplace, and allow you to develop your best skills to a level of expertise.

6. Jump into the deep end

However, don’t just focus purely on one particular skill you have. You don’t want to be a one-trick pony. This can damage your chances of getting a better-paid position or promotion, as employers will always pick an employee who can offer versatility in their skill set.

Learn new skills, put yourself out of your comfort zone – these are just a few examples of what you can do to improve your versatility. If you’re worried about the consequences, make sure you have a few safety nets to fall back on. For example, ask a senior colleague to listen in on your client call so they can help you if you get stuck.

7. Are you ready to thrive in the workplace?

In order to secure career progression and get higher paid jobs in the future, you need to be the best you can be in your current role. When applying for new jobs, you will most likely have to use your existing employer as a reference. It goes without saying that if you thrive in their company, they’re far more likely to give you a glowing reference.

Make sure to follow these tips whether starting a new job, or if you just want to improve in your current role. Thriving in the workplace goes a long way to helping your career!

Lee Biggins is the CEO and Founder of CV-Library, an independent job board in the UK. Having launched the company from his bedroom nearly two decades ago, Lee has since seen CV-Library grow from strength to strength, and he is now committed to growing Resume-Library, its US sister site.

Striving for the side hustle

Why more students than ever before are setting their sights on the side hustle and ditching the traditional nine to five

Our general default to working hours is and has always been, the nine to five. But why is this so? Is it just a habit? A comfort associated with this way of working and living?

Among the many students around the world that I’ve spoken to or mentored, there’s a sense that these traditional, standard working hours are well on their way out. This simply is not the lifestyle young people want for their futures and change is already afoot.

We’ve seen a major change in the behaviours and desires of job seekers over the last 12 months on the JOB TODAY hiring platform, particularly among students in the UK, but also worldwide.

Where the ‘Jack of all trades’ was once seen as a negative, today’s millennials and members of generation Z are embracing the opportunity to grow in multiple trades or skills and are ditching the race to chase elusive job titles through the ‘job for life’.

Instead, they’re pursuing multiple income streams through part-time, freelance and casual roles to develop new skills and champion a more balanced way of working – as a student and beyond. A multi-hyphenated way of working if you will.

We recently conducted new research which shows that more young people in the UK than ever before are ditching the nine to five. In fact, 50% of those surveyed said roles outside these standard working hours are helping them pursue side hustles and achieve a better work-life balance.

Supporting students to challenge convention and pursue flexible work

Personally, I love that this generation is completely challenging the norms set by generations before us. They’re leveraging multiple roles and ways of working to create a multi-hyphenated career that allows them to smash goals and create a lifestyle that better balances work, passion pursuits, and social/family lives.

However, while many millennials and Gen Z job seekers (in particular) seem to have it all together when it comes to pursuing their passions the reality is that the vast majority of young people still need a helping hand to go after their side hustles.  

We need to do more to help and encourage this generation in their pursuit of their passions, side hustles and simply, a lifestyle that goes against the comforts of the nine to five. This is all the more important when this type of lifestyle looks so different to parents, grandparents, and even to friends.

That’s the reason behind JOB TODAY’s recent partnership with king of the side hustle, Jamal Edwards MBE, who was named to the 2016 Forbes 30 under 30 in European media list and is the founder of urban music channel SBTV. The #WorksForMe campaign offers the chance to win an exclusive, one-to-one mentoring session with Jamal that can help one young person in the UK to get their passion project off the ground.

As part of the campaign, aspiring entrepreneurs across the UK have been getting in touch to tell us about their career goals, their side hustles, and why they want to win a one-to-one session with Jamal. We then selected finalists and you voted for the winner.

Top 5 flexible roles for students

The JOB TODAY app connects young job seekers with casual jobs which are available through local businesses. This allows students to secure jobs and facilitates flexible job opportunities that help young people in the UK steer through the ever changing, fast-paced job climate. Some of the most popular flexible roles we have available on the app right now for students include:

1. Dog walker: the UK’s fourth-most popular casual job can see you make monthly earnings of around £1,500 GBP a month. It also gets you out in the fresh air and offers a much-needed break from the books.


2. Promotional work: popular brands we use every day run campaigns to boost awareness and often need casual staff to help spread the word. Where these campaigns are held vary, but you could find yourself at a festival or a major sporting event. You can also pick which days you can work and which you can’t. Ideal for any hard-working student who doesn’t mind spending time on their feet!

3. Cleaning: cleaning while studying can help aid mental focus as you are keeping active without mentally investing. The trend of cleaning has seen Sophie Rose Hinchliffe (aka Mrs Hinch) catapult into influencer territory with her tips on keeping spaces sparkling. This role suits students who want to zone out and earn some cash.

4. Barista: the wonderful thing about the UK’s love for a frothy one is that there’s always work available behind a bar! The added bonus to this is, tips! This is best suited to the early birds.

5. Delivery driver: if you have a driving licence, then why not work the parcels – from courier driving to Uber Eats. Internet shopping is forever on the rise with instant and flexible options for delivery meaning there’s a constant demand for flexible workers in this arena. This often comes with a vehicle and you can work days and hours that suit your schedule.

Polina Montano is co-founder and Head of Global PR and Brand Marketing at mobile hiring company and app, JOB TODAY. She has a wealth of experience building and growing her own companies and holds a master’s degree in entrepreneurship and innovation from the University of Luxembourg.

Surviving and thriving in your post-university life

How can you ensure you don’t end up in a job for which you’re overqualified? HelloGrads co-founder, Sophie Phillipson, offers some practical steps

After years in education, we all look forward to the photo opportunity that is graduation. But beyond the gowns and mortarboards, there is a lingering sense of dread – the unknown is just around the corner.

The charmed walk into jobs and graduate schemes, others look to PhDs or gap years. The best advice you’ll ever get is this; even if you aren’t sure what you want to do for a living, the more preparation and planning you can squeeze in before you leave education, the better your first taste of the real world will be.

The risk of overqualification in your future employment

Research from the UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that graduate overqualification is a particular problem for the UK, compared to the rest of Europe, with 58.8% of UK graduates in non-graduate jobs – a figure only exceeded by Greece and Estonia. That means the risk of under-employment – doing a job you’re overqualified for – is high.

How to boost your prospects of securing the right job

The good news is there are some practical steps that can be taken before the training wheels come off.

1. Prime your CV

Life can get hectic at university, especially in the final few months. Finals loom, essays are due and the question of ‘what happens afterwards?’ keeps getting pushed back to deal with what is right in front of you. So kickstart your post-university prep before the final semester. In fact, there are plenty of things you can do from day one.

One of the best ways to enhance a CV is to get involved with, or run, a society, particularly if it bears some relevance to your chosen career path. Be it student media, young entrepreneurs, LGBTQ or debating, there’s either a society to be joined, or a gap for one to be started.

Not only will you meet interesting people, pick up new skills and potentially participate in big events, but it’s a golden opportunity to become more employable while enjoying yourself.

Likewise, hobbies and sports can demonstrate that you’re passionate, a team player, disciplined or dynamic.

2. Network

One of the biggest concerns we hear from new graduates is that they’ve left university without having any idea about what they want to do thereafter.

Having an idea of your career mapped out is sometimes half the battle, but this doesn’t mean Googling job titles – you need to start talking to people. There is no better way of understanding a job, or an industry, than to speak to someone on the frontline.

Spread the word among family and friends. If you stumble across a contact with an interesting job, send them a message or arrange a call and ask about what they do. Most people will be flattered to be asked.

If you don’t know anyone, try professional networking on LinkedIn. Search relevant content, read all you can, and try to strike up a conversation with someone in an industry that appeals to you.

Check out careers events taking place at your university. Dress smarter than the average student for these, as this is an opportunity to speak to industry insiders, glean useful knowledge, and make your mark.

Also, look at local employers. Can you start making relationships with small businesses in the same city while still at university, either by offering your skills as a temp or by doing some work experience between classes?

3. Great expectations

Speak to career coaches, professionals, graduates, or anyone with a job and they’ll all tell you your degree doesn’t define your career or your route to success.

Take the late billionaire Donald Fisher, who studied business at UC Berkeley. It was decades after he left his studies, and with no retail experience, that he founded Gap aged 40 because he couldn’t find jeans that fitted him. Dexter Holland completed a master’s in molecular biology then suspended his PhD studies to pursue his passion project which became the internationally-acclaimed punk rock band, The Offspring.

No one’s life or career is a well-structured race to the top. If you prepare properly and take the necessary steps to give yourself the best chance – as you’ve already done by investing in higher education – then, trust me, things will work out. But effort is required to make the transition easier.

By the time you leave higher education, you should already know how to solve problems, work hard, focus and really get stuck into a project. But you can make your way into the ‘real world’ much simpler with some thought and planning.

Sophie Phillipson is co-founder of student and graduate support site HelloGrads, which offers help and advice on careers, life and finances to those leaving university.

Perspectives on Asia Pacific business education

Business School leaders from across Asia Pacific talk exclusively about the challenges and opportunities facing them. Interviews by Jack Villanueva and Kevin Lee-Simion

Yang Yang, CEO and co-founder of iPIN

Can you introduce yourself?

I am a founder of an AI company in China, which is developing a platform that will allow people to make applications to help college and high-school students in their personal career development plans, and also help students complete applications for Schools. 

A big challenge of AI is that machines cannot understand highly abstract words such as the US or AMBA. However, all the business areas people need AI to understand, relate to these words.

In order to overcome that, we built a social-economic graph and used it to model the whole economic development of China. This way, machines can understand highly abstract words such as ‘companies’, ‘Schools’, ‘majors’, ‘occupations’, and ‘cities’. Because of this, we can provide some applications to help people plan their career path or help recruiters to recruit people by quickly finding the best candidates among millions of applicants.

How can AI help foster innovation and entrepreneurship in tomorrow’s leaders?

AI gives innovators a lot of new tools. For example, there were a lot of people who wanted to do something before, but they couldn’t because they were lacking AI technology. Now, because of things like deep learning, machines can do many different kinds of work, especially classification work, better than human beings. This has created many new opportunities in many business areas.

How has the use of AI changed the business landscape in China?

AI in China is growing very fast. Many companies in China are using AI to solve different kinds of problems in areas such as finance, education, manufacturing and e-commerce. China has a huge population and can generate large quantities of data, especially data around personal behaviour, and this can help businesses and entrepreneurs in China. This can also help machines better understand people’s behaviour in many different dimensions.

Suresh Mony, Director of the Bangalore Campus of Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (NMIMS)

In your mind, what does a ‘great’ Business School programme look like?

Educators have a big role to play in creating jobs in society. With the advent of AI, jobs are really being threatened. World Bank research finds 69% of the jobs in India and more than 70% of the jobs in China will disappear within the coming decade. So we must do something drastic. It is SMEs that will create the most jobs per unit of capital invested. The world before 1820 was known as an entrepreneurial society, but everyone had small businesses. With the advent of the large-scale enterprises, it became a society of employees. If jobs are going to become scarce, we need more enterprises and Business Schools should be more instrumental in that. 

The great programmes generate graduates who are analytical, who can synthesise ideas and manage businesses. They are probably not the best at creating businesses.

Entrepreneurship requires people who have critical thinking skills, tolerate ambiguity, and can create. The curricula and pedagogy will have to be tuned to help students create value.

Pedagogy is still classroom orientated. We’ll have to have less of the classroom and more action in terms of enabling students to observe, be apprentices, go out in the market, make their own studies, and make their own decisions. This will help them create a value proposition for the customer.

Do you think today’s students and subsequent graduates are being taught the skills they need to succeed?

Sadly, no. A recent US survey found only 11% of Business School graduates set up their enterprise and of those, only 7% raised capital. 

The mind set for Business Schools is to train students for industry and capture low-hanging fruit. This makes students more job orientated. And the fact that Schools are able to land students good jobs in industry means the hunger is missing in students. 

Business Schools have to have a different structure for entrepreneurship and education, and for faculty. They should not be judged by the workloads or research output, but by how they can create entrepreneurs.

How can Business Schools work to support students’ development of knowledge of entrepreneurship?

A Masters in Entrepreneurship Education, would be a distinct programme and Business Schools should develop it as a two-year long programme with sufficient focus on the action learning part of it; action learning for innovation, and action learning for entrepreneurship.

It would need to be seperate to the conventional MBA, which supplies talent to industry so graduates can become executives. You have to have a different pool of students for entrepreneurship. If you have a creative outlook and innovative ability, I think you will go for entrepreneurship education.

Those who come from business families, even if they do an MBA, after one or two years go back to their businesses, or they go and set up their own enterprise.

Sherry Fu, Director, University of Manchester China Centre

How can Business Schools better support students to participate actively in their own futures?

Business Schools need to provide systematic business knowledge which should build a solid foundation for students. This requires curricula to be continually updated so they keep up with social and economic developments.

Schools need to pay more attention to extra-curricular activities that support students’ career aspirations. The extra-curricular activities and career support are vital. 

In terms of career development, we need the right people to be career advisors. These people don’t have to be academically strong, but should be practical, have real industry experience, and insight into specific sectors that they can share.

We should manage students’ career expectations. Career support doesn’t mean holding the student’s hand; it’s about giving the right advice. We don’t guarantee students a job, secure a job for them, or find a job for them. However, some students will have those expectations that when they sign up to the MBA programme; they will get their ideal job, a promotion in their company, or a better paid role. Students need to take ownership of their own career development.

What we do as Business School educators is support, give advice and make sure we work with students to help make things happen so they can achieve their career goals.

Do you think it’s also about pushing students to become entrepreneurs rather than just employees?

Entrepreneurship is a trend in China because society is encouraging young people to run start-ups and the government has policies to support start-up companies.

We encourage students to have an entrepreneurial spirit so they can be more passionate, but I think Business Schools also provide career support so that students can become more senior within big organisations. 

On the one hand, we encourage students to move forward to gain senior roles, but for those people who want to run their own companies, we can give them more ideas or more education on innovation
and entrepreneurship.

At Manchester Business School, we have an enterprise centre and an incubator for students who want to set up their own companies. The School will invest in them, financially support them, and give them an education in entrepreneurship and innovation.

How can Business Schools nurture the skill sets employees need to succeed?

There are four key areas around which we nurture our students’ skills. The first area is about core skills and the core employability sessions that we deliver via webinars. These webinars are about careers and are given
by industry speakers, practitioners, and our professors. 

Second, we make sure each centre has dedicated staff to tailor sessions to our students with the right information to fit in the local market. 

Third, we provide tailored one-to-one sessions and employ career advisors to provide consulting to students. We ensure the people working for us have real business knowledge and an understanding of the jobs market.

The fourth way in which we nurture our students’ skills is by running events to which we invite industry speakers and we make sure our current students and alumni attend. This means students can learn and get opportunities from their peers, get the right skills sets for career development, and build networks.

We don’t want students just to master the main theories of business. The key is whether they can use these theories to
handle the challenges in the workplace and make a contribution.

As a Business School, we should make sure our students are socially responsible. They shouldn’t just care about making money, they should contribute to their organisation and the wider community.

Robert Yu, Head of China, Lego Education

What’s the concept of Lego Education?

Lego Education believes in learning through play. We empower students and teachers to become lifelong learners through playful learning experiences with our digital and physical education solutions.

Education is about empowerment. At Lego Education we’re very fortunate that we started a journey of this empowerment in 1980. Over the past 37 years, we have learned a lot, experimented a lot, and gained a lot.

Delivering playful experiences at Lego Education is about four things. These are encouraging cultivation of computational thinking; encouraging the building of STEM curriculums; helping and investing in the professional development of teachers globally; and investing in the ecosystem
with global partners.

How does playful learning fit into the Business School?

A playful learning experience should be joyful and socially engaing so that, students find meaning in it. That’s how we define ‘playful’. 

We feel Business School students are facing too many challenges in finding a job, stepping into a career, and solving real-life business problems.  

Can you explain some of your work in encouraging students to be more creative?

We help teachers learn what it means to be a lifelong learner, to be creative, and actively engaged in the classroom. Only when teachers are empowered to deliver a creative classroom can any of type learning happen and that kind of study habit can be cultivated through the teaching process.

We encourage teachers to design a lesson plan, promote different solutions in the classroom, and encourage them to ask students to come up with different solutions and communicate them and in the process, evaluate and reconsider options. Through these processes, students develop computational thinking. They learn to deconstruct tasks, to generalise, and come up with solutions which they will evaluate. At the end, they learn to look objectively at their conclusions which is what we want out of a creative experience.

Does learning in a more creative and playful way lead to innovation?

We have research showing that playful experiences induce deep learning. It’s not just about engaging or creating learning spaces to encourage creativity, it’s about the playful experience itself that includes deep learning which will help learners develop different kinds of skill sets.

Why do you think it’s important for MBAs to collaborate and be lifelong learners?

We live in a world of change and we adapt to this by continuing to learn, being curious, being innovative in the process of solving problems, and coming up with solutions that can help build abstractions. These are all things we are trying to promote, and encouraging learners and teachers to develop throughout the learning experience. 

I feel Business School leaders realise that learning is an experience, and this can be enhanced through different approaches; whether that’s action learning, playful learning, case studies or internships. Once we look at holistic learning in this way, students can benefit immensely.

Why is it important to have that balance between the digital and physical approach to creative and playful learning?

We integrate a digital experience into our entire solution because we know that students are using digital technologies every day, and they will face more digital options in the future.

We believe it is important to give them an understanding and a framework blending physical and digital experiences in a leaning scenario, early on.

Peter Helis, CEO, Helis & Associates

Why is it important for Business Schools to collaborate and build partnerships?

The difference between partnerships and competition is that one is positive and the other is negative. Partnerships are about talking with each other and competition is more about organisations assuming, or not knowing, what is going on in their markets, and not dealing directly with each other.

I would always prefer a partnership because one plus one becomes a lot more than two. We’ve seen that in China, where corporates are very keen to have partnerships with the Western world. Sometimes this is viewed as a joke because people in the West still see China as a competitor, instead of a place for potential partnerships.

In terms of China and Asia Pacific, do you have any examples of exciting and interesting partnerships that you’ve worked on or are working on?

Think of our company as a platform. We don’t build the partnerships directly, we build a platform where people can meet and exchange ideas.

We organise conferences, matchmaking and delegation trips for both sides. We’ve organised very large conferences in southern China and western China. We’ve also organised conferences in Munich and Berlin.

Through these conferences, or platforms, people meet. And then once they meet we can follow up on this. 

When we look at APAC, Vietnam and Myanmar are doing very well, but China is really like a continent, and there are so many untapped areas with huge potential. We can basically copy and paste some of the principles that you’ve already applied in the region in which you’re based.

If you venture to central, western, or southern China, you still have a lot to do before you go to the other APAC countries.

How can a Business School begin to work out a partnership?

Start by doing some research at home and see what areas are interesting. Then, if you don’t have a plan for China in motion, engage with a company such as ours and explore how you can approach potential customers or business partners. If you already have a business in China, take the next step. 

Look beyond your current surroundings and try to set up businesses in southern or western China.

Martin Lockett, Dean of the Nottingham University Business School in Ningbo, China

What are the main elements of evolution for the MBA?

It’s about improving the skills of people who come as students onto the MBA. Some of that will be about deepening knowledge, but a lot of MBAs spend too much time on knowledge and not enough on attitude.

You can give people learning experiences that enable them to experiment safely with new ideas, so they learn the skills needed.

At a Business School where I used to work, we asked students to develop a new business idea. Then we reflected afterwards to get people to think about questions such as ‘what did this mean for me?’ and ‘what can I learn from this?’

In our MBA we ask students to develop a business plan, and we hope they will take that forward. They can experiment and learn in a safe environment and develop their skills as a leader – whether that’s for their own business, developing innovate ideas in an organisation, or for a more general role in an established business.

Focus on business education in Latin America

Heads of Business Schools from Latin America discuss Business School programmes in their region and how these are developing and interacting with business. Interviews by Jack Villanueva and Kevin Lee-Simion

Jorge Talavera 
President, ESAN Graduate School of Business, Peru


What does a ‘great’ MBA programme look like?

Great MBA programmes support the best product – students. To support them, we need to provide them with the key factors for success which include knowledge, soft skills, leadership and team work.

How has international business developed in Latin America? 

To develop international business, we developed our students. We established very good connections with the business sector. We provided them with the leaders, and they told us what we have to teach in order to be relevant. 

How are MBA programmes similar across the world, and how do they differ?

In the past they were quite similar. People in developing countries followed the programmes in the US and Europe, but MBA programmers try to solve the problems in the region. So now we have to adapt programmes and develop our own, to give our students the ability to solve problems in our society. 

Do you think the MBA mindset has changed?

I don’t think so. People have always studied for MBAs because they want to lead institutions, and Schools have provided students with knowledge to lead institutions.

What are the main challenges Business Schools face? 

Coping with change in terms of technology, and dealing with competition due to globalisation. We have to compete to provide solutions for society, and good quality professionals.

Should there still be a focus on local businesses and local economies as well as the international business economy?

You have to be good in your own country first. Then you can take your success abroad and provide other societies with solutions.

How important is it for Business Schools to continue to innovate in order to compete with businesses around the globe?

Innovation is important but sometimes innovation is confused with change. Organisations change and say they are innovative because they changed – but then go bankrupt. You need to innovate and it needs to be successful, otherwise it doesn’t mean anything.

Xavier Gimbert
General Director of the Graduate Business School of Universidad del Pacifico, Professor of the GBS of Universidad del Pacifico and Professor of ESADE Business School 


How do you see the decision-making process changing over the next few years?

The decision-making process has to be strategically ongoing, because the environment is changing every day. Also, decision making is becoming more collaborative.

Decision making is the most important process in managing an organisation. If you don’t have the best people and a good process, it will be a disaster.

How are strategic models beneficial to a business?

Models are guides and their objective is to help you to think, reflect, and make decisions. In a decision process, a model gives you different steps you have to think about in order to make decisions.

How important is innovation in strategic management? 

Innovation is one of the key elements of strategic management. But do you have to innovate in order to be successful? Innovation is something a company should have the option of doing, but doesn’t always have to do. 

Do you think MBAs are learning the skills required to succeed in the future? Or do Business Schools need to evolve?

I think the content of the MBA is evolving as there are more soft skills, which are fundamental to getting a good job, managing companies, reading changes in the environment, making fast decisions, and adapting to change. These areas can’t be taught though ‘real’ content.

Why is it arguably more important than ever to create alliances?

We are in a global world and can’t do everything alone. In Latin America, it’s a way to improve, in terms of businesses and Business Schools. Alliances provide knowledge from abroad. It’s a very powerful tool. Nowadays, alliances are key and we have to see others not just as competitors, but as potential allies.

Martin Santana
Professor of Information Systems, ESAN Graduate School of Business, Peru

Should there be a greater emphasis on technology in MBA programmes?

I think there is an emphasis but it’s not significant. We are dealing with millennials, 75% of whom interact through technology. Our MBA programmes are not prepared for that, as technology is used more as a learning platform. But this is a different dimension we are talking about with the technologicalically savvy guys from the millennial generation.

How important is the role technology for Schools? 

I think technology is key and Schools are using it to gain connections around the world, to provide a leaning environment, create alliances, and persuade prospective MBAs and faculty to come to their School. 

What innovations have you seen in the world of digital business?

Change in the learning environment. It’s now an open environment with different technologies, but they are converging into one purpose for Business Schools – enhancing learning opportunities
for students. We are under pressure to create a learning environment for the millennial generation.

What are your thoughts on e-learning? How beneficial do you think it is to an MBA?

It’s very important, but I believe in a more blended methodology. A 100% online programme is not yet well accepted in Latin America as employers believe these are low-quality programmes. I believe blended programmes will be the solution but I’m not against having a 100% virtual programme.

In what ways could Business Schools use technology to
their advantage?

I think technology should be used to attract, retain, and train our students, and change the mindset of professors who are using technology for basic things.  Technology is a key component of being successful.

Do you think technology and millennials are essential for Peruvian Business?

I believe so because more than 40% of the population is made up of millennials. In the near future, the majority of the workforce will be millennials, they will be future entrepreneurs and will be running most companies.

How will millennial leadership compare to traditional leadership?

Millennials care about a lot more than just being managers. For one, they expect to have good mentors, and this will be the model they use in the companies of the future. They will become mentors and transformational leaders – focused on the person rather than the activity.

Do you think millennials lack soft skills when you compare them to previous students?

Yes, remember we are still talking about young people and they are in the process of developing. They lack social skills but it’s our job to teach them these. We can change their mindsets and help shape them so they can be successful. 

What do you think the future holds for the MBA?

There will be many different varieties of MBA programme, and they will come together with a blended methodology. This means you will be able to connect with anybody around the world, but we will have to change our methods of teaching, and our professors. 

Matthew Bird
Professor, Universidad del Pacífico Graduate School, Peru

Is there a big difference between how businesses are run and how the government is run?

There is in Latin America. There is a distrust between the government and the private sector. I believe many countries’ societies understand that they need one another, but the hard thing to do is to build the foundation for trust and identify those shared spaces for collaboration.

How important is innovation in solving social challenges?

Very important: innovation can be anything that is different and creates value. Understanding social systems creates opportunities to identify those small interventions where the government and private sector can work together.

To solve social challenges, do you think it is a one-size-fits-all solution all or is it case-by-case?

There are elements that are cross-cutting, and once you know how to tackle social issues, it’s down to harvesting local solutions to shared problems. This is one of the reasons I believe in design thinking because it really focuses people to listen, empathising first. Through that empathy, you can understand where the gaps are, and what people want, so you can collaborate better to deliver that.

In what ways will harvesting local innovative interventions solve common social challenges?

People look at social issues as problems, but people should see them as solutions. Take the informal economy. People originally viewed the informal economy as a problem. However, people were working in the informal economy. This means they were creating value through jobs, and therefore creating  income. It was a solution.

How do you think the rise in digital technologies is affecting Business Schools?

Digital technologies are already transforming the way we teach and interact with students. Technologies are creating challenges, but also opportunities. For example, with virtual education, you are creating competition between Schools, but there are also opportunities for people to overcome historical geographic barriers and push education into areas that have been traditionally harder to reach.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing Business Schools in Latin America?

The biggest challenge for Business Schools in the region is to move away from a strong focus on teaching, as there are opportunities for research. Research can still contribute to value creation, but its potential has still not been tapped.

How much of an impact does cultural influence play in economic decisions?

You define decisions and use certain frames – influenced by social cultural backgrounds – to justify them. Then you identify decision criteria, and then the choices. These choices are permeated by your culture.

Oscar Muartua de Romaña
Director de la Escuela de RR.II. y Gobierno de la UTP en Universidad Tecnologica del Peru (UTP)

How important is it for countries to work together?

It is an obligation and we have always demanded that the international community resolve these problems. The UN means there is an international community of 200 nations, and stability has a path through hard times.

Do you think volatility makes collaboration more difficult?

It is more challenging, but we can provide more effective reactions. One of the biggest challenges, but also the most fundamental aspect, is to have dialogue, because only through this will countries understand each other. Also, science and technology are providing us with enough arguments to build our future to benefit all humanity.

Do you think international relations impact business education?

Business Schools need international relations to prepare future professionals. MBAs have a moral function – they are embodying the values of society while trying to benefit society.

will it be difficult for Schools to implement the UN’s sustainable development goals?

It will be difficult to adapt to reform. But these principles are nothing new. So it is about doing as much as we can through investment in education and generalised development.

How do international relations impact Latin America? 

International relations have helped us create Schools, bring in faculty, and establish MBAs. We’ve learned how development can create good results for a country, and we made this into a reality. International relations have also helped us become aware of innovation and entrepreneurship. Business has played an important role in the growth of Latin America. 

How are Schools in Latin America preparing MBAs for the future? 

Business Schools are preparing MBAs for an open economy, and everything that has been done by Business Schools is an investment in Latin America. MBAs are also learning about the linkage between the Business School, industry, and government, and the importance of moral values.

Racheli Gabel Shemueli
Research Fellow and Professor in the Graduate School of Business of the Pacific University in Lima, Peru

What do you look for in a prospective MBA student?

We want people who are different and who acquire knowledge and implement it. They have to be responsible leaders who want to create change. We are looking to the kind of person that makes a difference. 

What are the challenges in attracting these students?

The challenge is to state that our Business School is different. We say we are looking for quality, and we are very demanding.

How important is it for MBAs to have cross-cultural experience?

When we think about inter-cultural experience, we also think about local experience because Peru is very diverse. Cross-cultural experience is not just about travelling the world, but about working with diverse people. For an MBA to be exposed to cross-cultural experiences, and know how to work with this is important, in order for them to lead.

In what ways can cross-cultural issues be addressed in the future?

In-house learning is important so we can see what our students understand. Then it is a matter of doing the exercise, and doing it in your own life.

Why is innovation important?

Learning is interactive. I am learning from my students and they are learning from me. 

Professors are now just facilitators of limited information, and as a result, knowledge comes from both sides, the students and the professor.

Enhancing social innovation in Africa

With Africa’s population projected to grow to 2.4 billion by 2050, there is an urgent need for the emergence of more social innovators, operating at scale, to address pressing problems in sectors from education and healthcare to employment and housing, writes Ndidi Okonkwo Nwuneli

Oiginally labelled the ‘dark continent’ and largely unknown to the rest of the world, Africa is now being described as the ‘last frontier’. 

Following decades of slow and uneven economic growth, the average growth rate across African countries is estimated at 5%, and more than two-thirds of the countries in the region have enjoyed 10 or more years of uninterrupted growth. 

The majority of the countries are recognised as democracies and internal and cross-border strife has diminished significantly. An average African woman’s life expectancy rate has risen from 41 in 1960 to 57 years in 2017, and more than 70% of children are in school, compared to around 40% in 1970. Many of these advances can be linked to the work of a growing number of passionate and committed social innovators: individuals who have identified novel solutions to the continent’s most pressing problems that are affecting the masses. These innovators operate in the public, private and non-profit sectors and are concentrated in the health, education and energy landscapes, with a growing number emerging in financial services, agriculture and sanitation. 

Their work is being propelled by the rapid advances in mobile technology, which facilitates mobile health, mobile education, payment systems and mobile money. In addition, they are gradually being supported by a range of initiatives including innovation accelerators, hubs, prizes, and fellowships. 

The most popular Africa-based social enterprises include the African Leadership Academy and African Leadership University, Ashesi University, Bridge International Academies, One Acre Fund, Riders for Health and Sanergy. These organisations have received numerous local and global awards and prizes for their pioneering efforts, and have strong links to the international community, which has provided funding and support for their work. 

There is also a growing number of organisations operating on the African Continent, which are essentially home-grown initiatives with minimal global recognition. They include:

  • Action Health Incorporated established by Dr Uwem and Nike Esiet in 1999, to address the rising incidence of HIV / AIDS and teenage pregnancies in Lagos, Nigeria. Over a 10-year period, they designed and introduced sexuality and reproductive health curricula into public schools, fighting against the odds in a deeply religious society. Today, this curricula and its delivery has been adopted across the majority of the public schools in the country, and have played a key role in reducing HIV/AIDs and teenage pregnancies.
  • CLEEN Foundation founded by Innocent Chukwuma, was established in 1998 to address rising crime rates in Nigeria’s major cities and create bridges between the police and citizens. Faced with stiff resistance from both sides of the divide from the onset, CLEEN worked with the Nigerian Police Force to revive and strengthen its internal accountability mechanisms such as the Police Public Complaints Bureau (PCB) in six Nigerian states. It also encouraged the police force to make its processes open and transparent, which ultimately exposed the gross misconduct of many police officers, leading to the dismissal of more than 5,000.
  • IkamvaYouth in South Africa was established in 2003 by Joy Olivier and Makhosi Gogwana. The organisation equips students in grades 9, 10 and 11, from disadvantaged communities, with the knowledge, skills, networks and resources to access tertiary education and / or employment opportunities. These ‘learners’ eventually become volunteers and ultimately continue the cycle of giving back to the next generation of ‘learners’. IkamvaYouth operates in the Western Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, North West, and the Eastern Cape, reaching thousands of young people.
  • The Ethiopia Commodity Exchange (ECX), was initiated in 2008 as a marketplace or platform that facilitates the trading of agricultural produce between buyers and sellers. It provides transparent price information for both farmers and buyers, and protects both farmers and traders from price drops and price hikes, respectively. ECX harnesses innovation, technology, and storage infrastructures to mobilise products from smallholder farmers and ensures product quality, delivery, and payment.

Challenges faced by social innovators

Social innovators operating on the African continent face challenges that are not unique to Africa, but are often more severe, with higher stakes. My interviews with more than 80 African social innovators have raised four critical shared challenges:

  • lack of credible data for local communities, countries, and regions, which slows down the processes for planning, piloting, and scaling social innovations and hinders the ability of key stakeholders to measure their impact on society. 
  • heterogeneity within and across countries, which includes significant diversity in colonial histories, language, religion, culture, community assets, and social development, essentially means that there is ‘no single story’. Innovations must be tweaked or significantly altered to enable scaling from one community to another, which is not only more expensive, but also slows the scaling process. 
  • fragmented ecosystems, in almost every sector, especially the agricultural, education and health landscapes, limit the ability of innovators to reach large numbers of people in record time. Consider the agriculture sector, where 85% of arable land in Africa is cultivated by farmers with less than two hectares. This essentially means that any intervention that wants to scale up in this sector can only do so by working with farmer clusters as opposed to individual farmers. The process of creating clusters of farmers, hospitals, schools, small and medium-sized enterprises, and other sectors, and building trust among
  • these groups, takes time and requires financial resources. 
  • significant talent, infrastructure and financing gaps which limit scaling. For example, only one-third of Africans living in rural areas are within two kilometres of an all-season road, compared with two-thirds of the population in other developing regions. This, in turn, makes it extremely difficult and expensive to extend healthcare, education, and agriculture innovations to communities in rural areas. Sadly, with underdeveloped distribution and marketing systems, social innovators essentially work along all aspects of the value chain, filling gaps that ordinarily would not exist in other markets to reach people.

Prerequisites for success

All social innovators need to invest in critical building blocks for success – rooted in sound management principles: clear missions, visions, and values. However, there are at least four prerequisites to establishing successful social innovations in the African context which deserve significant attention.

1 Compelling business models: Social innovators need to develop compelling business models, defined by six critical components: demand driven, measurable impact, simple, engages the community, leverages technology and low-cost. These six components differentiate initiatives which die at the pilot phase or when the donor funding ends, from initiatives that are sustainable and able to achieve scale, spanning communities and even countries. Innovations that are demand driven essentially meet the needs of individuals, who value the product or service and are willing to contribute their time and financial resources, regardless of how minimal, to obtain them. In addition, the innovators have determined the most cost-effective approaches to deliver at scale and developed effective systems and structures to support their scaling effort. They often use simple payment mechanisms using mobile technology and support from microfinance partners, where applicable. These tools are highly dependent on a robust data – tracking system to gauge impact and usage. Two examples from the energy sector that demonstrate the power of demand-driven and sustainable business models are M-KOPA Solar and Off Grid Electric, which both operate in East Africa. They provide solar solutions to more than 550,000 households using a pay-as-you go model, and have demonstrated the tremendous potential at the bottom of pyramid

2 Talent for scaling: Talent on the African Continent remains a huge constraint for all growth sectors given the weak education systems and the global opportunities that are available to the best and brightest. As a result, every social innovator needs to invest in attracting and retaining a dream team composed of mission-driven high achievers. They also need to invest in recruiting a committed and independent board of directors, and engage volunteers, short-term consultants, and fellows. Organisations such as EDUCATE! In Uganda and Sanergy in Kenya, have designed and implemented creative strategies for attracting, retaining, and developing talent. They have also invested in building a culture of innovation and excellence, which attracts individuals from the private sector to their organisations. 

They offer tailored training programmes, travel fellowships and significant job responsibilities for their team members and have also developed modular approaches for scaling talent. 

3 Funding for Innovation: There is a broad range of financing options available to social innovators in Africa, depending on whether they operate for-profit, nonprofit or hybrid organisations. These financing options range from fee-for-service and cross subsidisation to externally generated funds such as grants, awards, fellowships, challenge funds, crowdfunding, impact investments and loans. In addition, the funding landscape, especially for impact investments, has expanded dramatically over the past 10 years, with cities such as Nairobi hosting more than 60 impact investment funds and other investment vehicles, where only a few existed 15 years ago. In-spite of the plethora of funds, most local social innovators struggle to obtain financing for their ventures, while funders complain that they cannot find initiatives that are investment ready. Indeed, external funders are only interested in engaging with organisations that have strong credibility, governance structures, financial management systems and controls and can demonstrate the ability to use the funds to achieve results.

Social innovators operating in Africa have obtained financing work diligently to establish and communicate a strong business case and theory of change, backed by sound data that establishes a clear need and sustainable demand. They also amplify their impact work through creative communication strategies to raise broad-based awareness and effectively differentiate themselves. In addition, they demonstrate strong transparent systems and structures, a culture of ethics and accountability, attractive return on investment ratios and exit options for impact investors, where applicable.

4 Partnerships with key stakeholders in the public, private and nonprofit sectors: Social innovators cannot achieve impact and scale without cross-sector collaborations, rooted in shared values and a desire to achieve collective impact. This is especially relevant in highly regulated sectors such as health and education.

Sadly, there are few examples of partnerships in the African context, largely linked to significant distrust among actors, the intense competition for the perceived ‘small pie’ of resources and support structures and the fear of giving up control. Partnerships are also challenging in an environment where there is a high level of bureaucracy and red tape within government institutions which ordinarily should serve as catalysts for collaborations and innovations. In reality, social innovators who successfully collaborate in this context, actively map the ‘ecosystem’, determining which stakeholders can serve as champions, opponents or even beneficiaries. They then develop strategies for interfacing with all key actors, proactively shaping their ecosystems and forming strategic cross-sector collaborations that foster impact and scaling.

Preparing for The future

With Africa’s population projected to grow to 2.4 billion by 2050 – more than 70% under the age of 30 years old, with 60% in cities and towns – there is an increasing need for the emergence of more social innovators, operating at scale. These individuals will essentially need to develop creative and innovative solutions in education, healthcare, employment, sanitation, security, electricity, transportation, and housing to meet the needs of the people.

The social innovators will need also need critical leadership and management skills, as well as the talent, financing and partnerships required to surmount the obstacles they will face to pilot and scale interventions.

Indeed, Business Schools in Africa and around the globe will have to play a critical role in preparing this next generation of social entrepreneurs and innovators. 

The Bertha Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at the University of Cape Town is just one example of the numerous institutions in Africa and across the globe that are working to inspire, empower, and equip the social innovators.

I am convinced that the ability of more social innovators to pilot, establish and scale their initiatives to solve Africa’s most pressing problems will transform the continent and continue to ensure that Africa progresses from the last frontier to the brightest continent over the next decade.

Ndidi Okonkwo Nwuneli, Harvard MBA 1999; Wharton Undergrad 1995 is a serial social entrepreneur based in Lagos Nigeria. She is the founder of LEAP Africa – www.leapafrica.org, co-founder of AACE Foods Processing & Distribution Ltd. – www.aacefoods.com and co-founder of Sahel Consulting & Advisory Ltd – www.sahelcp.com. She is the author of – Social Innovation in Africa: A Practical Guide for Scaling Impact, published by Routledge in 2016.

The CEO with a social conscience

Indra Nooyi, Chairman and Former CEO of PepsiCo, speaks exclusively to BGA CEO Andrew Main Wilson about why Business Schools have a role in developing leaders who embrace a new kind of capitalism that works for everyone

What are the biggest challenges facing a CEO, in this increasingly volatile, uncertain and complex world?

I think the change we’re seeing in the world today is unprecedented. Every aspect of the world is changing from the economic balance to the tools and technology we use to run our businesses. So the CEO of today has to have incredible strategic acuity, enormous resilience, agility, and flexibility, and then bring the rest of the organisation along with them. You can either see these times as incredibly exciting or very scary. Scary times call for leadership of a different kind to take us to a new place. That’s what we’re all going through today as CEOs.

What is your advice to Business Schools about the skills they need to be imparting to students, to provide graduates who are fit for purpose?

Business Schools teach people to foster capitalism and these Schools were created to enhance and keep capitalism alive. I think the shareholder value theory is the primary message that most Business Schools impart to their students; that is, shareholder value is paramount and creating value at all costs is what is taught. I’d go so far as to say that there is a focus on making money and if you have a legal problem, get somebody from the Law School to solve it. If you have an environmental problem, get somebody from the Environmental School to solve it. If everything fails, get somebody from the Divinity School to pray for you…

However, things have to change because business cannot exist in a vacuum. Business cannot pass on costs to society and business cannot survive by just worrying about shareholders and not worrying about the communities and the societies in which they operate. We have to create a new form of capitalism that works for everyone and to do this, we need to re-tool Business Schools and students to realise that they’re not just going to graduate as money-making individuals, but have a purpose too. Students should graduate knowing that capitalism has a bigger role than just creating shareholder value in the short term.

Do you believe that a cohesive force of Business graduates across the world could be a much bigger influence on society going forward?

In a way, everybody picks up the debris from what capitalism has done. If capitalism is really a force for good in society, you’re supposed to address the whole issue of inequality and make sure that money doesn’t just flow to the top, but flows to the whole pyramid. Governments are then stuck with the debris from capitalism gone wild. 

If we really want business students to graduate as real citizens of the community, practising a new form of capitalism, they’ve got to understand that what they feel personally cannot be different from what they practise in their professional lives. 

The best example somebody gave me was during the 2008 financial crisis. If every financial services firm’s capital was at stake, would they have taken the kind of risks that they took? But, if all of us feel vested interest in the companies for which we work, because they impact us personally, the companies would be different. We have to understand that companies are communities and we have to operate for the betterment of communities. To do this, student recruitment has to change, as does
how we develop students and how we judge success. 

Salaries cannot be the only metric that assesses whether a School is good.
But unfortunately, that’s the only metric we have.

How can Business Schools teach students about issues of sustainability and responsible management. Should it be in their dna?

It’s not in the DNA of the students because the intake is pretty diverse. Yet most Business Schools exist within a university ecosystem, where there are Law Schools, Environmental Schools and so on. So the questions to ask are: Do you break down the silos in the universities? Do you take a case and bring in people from the other Schools to help you teach it? Why do you have to zip through a case? Why don’t you take one case and study all the facets of it? We’ve forgotten that business exists in a community and the university is a microcosm of that community.

Why shouldn’t Business School professors say: ‘I can invite others in to give their perspectives’. 

Also, we’re still trying to get these MBA students out in 18 months. We’re shortening the cycle when issues are more complex; for example, the role of social media in business. However, we don’t have the luxury to train novices for years.

What more do you believe should be done to attract women into Business courses, or is the real problem higher up the tree as you start to move towards the boardroom? 

The calibre of women in Business Schools is phenomenal, so clearly there’s leakage, because somewhere in middle management we’re losing them. I think when students want to get married and have children, the workload is not consistent with them doing all these jobs. You can say a lot of the millennials have equal partners who share in the workload, but equal partnering doesn’t mean the husband can give birth to the child. There are still roles the women play and somebody has to do the job disproportionally in child caring. Workplaces have not yet learned how to provide the kind of support to allow women to have a life and make a living. This change has to happen if we want to retain and promote women.

Another challenge we face is class stratification. We want people who step off the ‘track’ to come back. So we’ve started a trial programme to enable this. Also, if we want the best, we have to draw from the entire population, and the only way to do it is make the workplace an extension of the person’s life. For example, opening a day care centre here on campus, so parents, especially women, can tend to their children whenever necessary. More companies have to do this if we want women to come into the workforce.

How have you succeeded in combining the incredibly demanding roles of mother and CEO?

First of all, I have a very supportive husband, which helps. Second, having an extended family willing to help with the kids made a huge difference. They put their lives on hold to help us raise the kids. 

PepsiCo itself is a great place because of the ecosystem that supported me. For example, even the CEO who I succeeded, Steve Reinemund, helped me pick up the kids when my husband was stuck in traffic; he’d say: ‘I’ll go pick up one and you go pick up the other’. 

I’m very grateful to this company, for what it gave me and for what I’ve been able to do for the next generation of employees.

What advice would you give students on how to start a career overseas or, given the buoyancy of India as a business superpower, are they better off staying in India?

India has many issues, and needs a strong group of leaders to take it to the next level. Brain drain from India is not a good thing but these students have many more opportunities today than existed when I graduated. In my class, I was only one of five women. Today, 20%-40% of the class are women. Things have changed, so it behoves those kids to give back to the country for what the country has invested in them.

India has its share of problems and these business students can do wonders to help the country address these issues. If an army of graduates from the country’s top Business Schools cannot solve India’s problems, who is going to? 

They live in the midst of these problems, and they should sit down and figure out how to address them.

What do you believe is the best way to ensure lifelong learning?

Business Schools have a unique opportunity. Let’s say I graduated today from Yale School of Management, I’d love Yale to say that if I pay another
X thousand dollars, I can come back for a refresher programme for the next X number of years, to learn about the most important and current topics and have access to their online education to go deeper in those topics. 

It’s a golden opportunity to keep that connection with alumni, and because the world is changing so profoundly, it is not possible for leaders to keep up with everything that’s going on.

But today, we have to keep learning. For example, I grew up in a generation where social media didn’t exist, but I have to learn about it because the young people who work here, and who live on these devices, are the people generating all the noise. On the other hand, you can’t take a 30-year-old and say run a $63bn USD company. 

I think each of us also has to do our own learning, figuring out our curriculum and how we need to engage certain topics, we can’t just wait for others to give it to us. For example, today’s CEOs have to be foreign policy experts, understand issues in every country and the role of multilateral organisations, how NGOs think and behave, and understand really deep sustainability issues. 

We have to keep learning. Expertise is a leaders’ goal. But we have to strive for this goal.

How would you like to see business graduates make an impact on our planet?

I’d say to each of them, bring your whole self to work and think of what you’re doing as having an impact on your community. Make it very personal and see if the business is doing the right thing by the ecosystem in which you live in. If it isn’t, work in the company to change the model. 

The young people who are graduating now should make their voices heard to create change. Through this, we can actually reform capitalism to be a real force for good.