A Request to the Dean and the Admissions Committee of Wharton, HBS, MIT Sloan, Stanford, and other global b-schools.

I’d like to start by narrating a pattern that I’ve observed lately.

The smart guy with reputed brands on his LinkedIn profile says – “I think this is the right time for me to follow my heart. I want to work on social issues facing India. “.

A few months later, he has joined hands or partnered with folks who are desperately seeking like-minded co-founders, formed a new NGO or some website, re-branded himself with a title that’s fashionable these days such as “Chief Education Officer”, or “Chief Health Officer”, and before you know it there is a Facebook page with 1000+ Likes, having posts of videos/photos with poor children, inspiring quotes, and even media coverage that highlights how someone who could have been earning a fortune has opted out of the “rat race” and chosen to improve lives of India’s poor by meaningful social entrepreneurship.

A few more months later, I hear that our smart guy is busy writing essays for his MBA application at top business school. Interesting turn of events, don’t you think?

Some people believe there’s a formula to getting in to a top business school, and one of the key elements is doing ‘social good’ (or ‘bad’). No denying, this makes a great story – a stint in rural India, or a heart-warming tale of how a child changed your life and made you a better person!

I’m not sure if this formula has real merit – my own experience shows it does not. I was 25 when I was admitted to top b-schools and I had no such social experience.

I find it extremely disturbing that people adopt such formulas to accelerate their careers. Imagine the disappointment felt by a social worker who partners with someone to envision something new, only to realize a few months later, that her partner is working on an MBA application.

Creating online presence of your work is easy, but creating a sustainable offline presence in the lives of people is tough. Getting local newspapers to write about you is easy, but getting children to learn to write is tough.  A good attempt at social change needs time and a strong foundation. One can’t build lasting impact “on a sabbatical”.  The India that gets projected in essays seems more like the one in novels or tourism advertisements. The real India is much tougher, much slower, and much more complex.

Through this blog, I humbly request the Dean and the Admissions Committee at leading business schools to be vigilant of such formulas/myths, and take steps to disprove them. This will deter students who choose to do “instant social good”, and in the process hurt the real crusaders.

Corruption is rampant in India; the poor are always being exploited in some form or the other. The last thing this country needs is that ‘its poor’ are being “aptly positioned” to compete for a spot in the most coveted MBA program, one that’s going to cost more than the GDP of several villages in India.

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4 comments

  1. Aninda

    “A good attempt at social change needs time and a strong foundation.One can’t build lasting impact ‘on a sabbatical'”
    It has been my experience and opinion that, you can constructively utilize smaller effort. I would encourage sincere smaller contributions – signed up 20 people for a blood donation drive, Ran a voter registration drive. My point is that any result driven focus should count, no matter how small. One, therefore must not feel the need to oversell their contributions.

    Im not sure the poor lose by “aptly positioned” MBA application spin. In the grander scheme of things, I’m not sure it matters.

    • Anjali Gupta

      I agree with you completely. Small contributions go a long way. Those should be encouraged. Here I am referring only to certain cases where the contribution is more on paper or on resume and not in reality, especially when one wants to create the illusion of something big, rather than focus on just doing good and taking small steps. Thank you for your thoughtful comment and for sharing your perspective.

  2. You hit the nail on the head with this one. Nice read and very true ,

  3. kt

    See this problem in a lot of places, different set of values for actor/motivation/act. See Agency Problem below. How might one address this? How does one identify situations where someone says something, thinks another, and does something completely unrelated…

    http://www.investopedia.com/terms/a/agencyproblem.asp#axzz2HLLG9u4Z

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