5 Ways Business Students Are Making a Social Impact

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Monday, February 1, 2021
Marco De Novellis
Senior Editor, BusinessBecause & GMAC Media
Photo by iStock/bluecinema
While business schools have made social impact a part of their programs for some time, business students increasingly are leading their own initiatives.

Photo by iStock/bluecinema

At business school, you’ll learn the skills and develop the network you need to take the next step in your career. You can boost your salary after graduation and qualify for the top jobs, but you also have an opportunity to make a wider social impact.

At business schools around the world, students are supporting local communities and driving broader societal change through a range of initiatives covering areas like climate change, child poverty, and COVID-19 relief.

Business schools support students in their endeavors. For example, Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia in Athens offers a social innovation track as part of its full-time MBA, in which students work with socially impactful businesses and serve on the boards of local nonprofits.

But many social impact initiatives are started by the students themselves, through student clubs, pro bono consulting projects, and volunteer groups.

When they graduate, these students are best-placed to pursue impactful careers—working in corporate social responsibility for multinational companies, leading nonprofit organizations, or even starting their own social enterprise.

Here are five different ways business students are making a social impact:

1. Fighting COVID-19

COVID-19 presents a challenge for business students, with campuses closed and many forced to study online, but the pandemic is also an opportunity for innovation.

Two recent graduates from Trinity Business School at Trinity College Dublin, Paddy Ryder and Rob Muldowney, have been connecting students struggling to find internships with small businesses hurt by the pandemic through their nonprofit platform Covid Interns.

Small businesses facing the commercial challenges of COVID-19 are matched with business students. Students then gain practical experience in fields such as digital marketing, financial planning, consulting, web development, and social media management.

The platform has already successfully placed over 150 students from over 30 universities and business schools into internships, and has supported over 100 businesses across 25 industries.

2. Building a Sustainable Future

When it comes to championing sustainability, some business students are leading by example.

Through BISO Impact, the impact arm of BI Norwegian Business School’s student organization, BI students are actively working to incorporate sustainability in the business school’s courses, providing feedback and regularly reviewing the curriculum.

BISO Impact also issues the BISO Environment Compliance Certificate to other BI student organization projects and societies to ensure they meet sustainability requirements.

Students assess whether materials used for an event are as sustainable as possible, review methods of transportation, and check whether collaborators, sponsors, and suppliers are environmentally certified. Initiatives that match the green criteria are awarded financial support.

In 2020, BISO Impact co-organized Go Explorer Day, a conference that brought together students, professors, and industry professionals to discuss how to turn climate risks into climate opportunities.

3. Protecting the Environment

ESMT Berlin’s Net Impact chapter is the only German section of the major student organization, which mobilizes future leaders to make a positive impact in the world. Net Impact has over 400 chapters worldwide.

Through Net Impact, students at ESMT host an annual river cleanup event, Clean the Spree, gathering hundreds of people to clean the banks of the Spree river and the adjacent Treptower Park in Berlin.

In 2019, students enrolled volunteers from corporations like Booking.com and Decathlon, and hosted a panel discussion inviting CEOs of local green-tech startups and members of parliament to discuss environmental sustainability.

Although the 2020 cleanup was suspended due to COVID-19, ESMT students were able to help run the Open Climate Collabathon, a hackathon focused on creating the world’s first open-source carbon accounting system, with an aim of tackling climate change.

The hackathon is arranged in collaboration with Yale OpenLab, an organization made up of graduate students, postdocs, and other community members from Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. The group leverages emerging technologies to combat climate-related challenges.

4. Defending Children’s Rights

When joining the UNICEF ESCP London Society, students at ESCP Business School’s London campus commit to becoming spokespeople, raising awareness and funds for vulnerable children.

Relaunched in October 2020, the student group is partnered with the major nonprofit UNICEF, the United Nations’ children's fund, and aims to support children’s health, nutrition, education, and safety.

The group’s main focus this year is on Nepal, where 31 percent of individuals under 18 live in poverty, and the students plan to visit Nepal in 2022.

In the meantime, money obtained from student fundraising activities goes directly to UNICEF, funding a variety of projects, including the distribution of vaccines and school books to rural village communities.

5. Funding New Ventures

While many students are keen to start their own social enterprises, finding funding is a challenge. That’s where impact investing funds come in, providing investment for companies focused on social and environmental impact.

The University of Michigan's Ross School of Business in Ann Arbor is home to the first student-led impact investing fund in the United States, the Social Venture Fund (SVF), which invests in U.S.-based startups focused on education, community development, health, food systems, and the environment.

The fund is run by around 35 to 40 MBA and BBA students who work across the fund’s operations, involved in activities including sourcing deals, startup screening and analysis, due diligence, investment negotiation, and managing of the investment portfolio.

SVF has invested in a variety of socially impactful startups including Optimize.health, a remote patient monitoring platform for primary care physicians, and Chirps, which exists to normalize eating insects and support sustainable food systems. Chirps are tortilla chips made with cricket flower.

There are many opportunities to get involved in social impact activities at business school, and often the most varied and exciting come from the students themselves.

Marco De Novellis
Senior Editor, BusinessBecause & GMAC Media
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