Young people want to make the world a better place but their ability to secure purposeful work is constrained by universities, the institutions that exist to prepare them for careers.
There’s never been a more important time to help talented young people secure jobs to solve the world’s biggest problems. Research continues to validate the trend that students are making decisions about their careers based on their values. Forty-four percent of millennials and 49% of Gen Zs said that they have made choices about the types of work they would engage in —and the organizations they’d be willing to work for—based on their personal values, according to the Deloitte Global 2021 Millennial and Gen Z Survey.
More specifically, 50% of Gen Zers believe brands should take a stance on social issues (such as climate change, racial justice, and LGBTQ+ rights), according to Mediatool report GenZ Trends 2023: What Marketers Need to Know. This generation was found to be three times more likely to say businesses should “serve communities and society” rather than simply “make good products and services.”
Businesses recognize the importance of contributing to solving social problems and need employees who can help them improve their social impact. This year, a group of business leaders shared their views in an article David Hessekiel wrote for Forbes titled 2023 CSR Trend Forecasts. These emphasized the importance of cultivating internal cultures that support diversity, equity, and inclusion, partnering with nonprofits to create opportunities and access for underrepresented communities and creating opportunities for employees to contribute to social impact.
While businesses may be responding to the shift in workplace values, business schools aren’t adequately preparing students with the tools they need to embody their values successfully in the workplace. “While business schools can help these students develop many important skills and ultimately work toward the triple bottom-line of profits, people, and the planet, it’s important that universities extend social impact education into other disciplines,” wrote Marta Urquilla, former deputy director at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University, in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. “The world needs a variety of leaders, with a range of expertise, committed to the public good in every sector—and universities, as multidisciplinary environments, are uniquely positioned to produce such talent.”
In my experience, business schools are typically seen as the default choice for young people who want to pursue careers with purpose. However, the best young social change leaders I’ve worked with have eclectic interests, a multidisciplinary education and lived experience of social problems. One of the most inspiring young people I’ve worked with never finished high school and had experienced homelessness.
To find out more about what’s needed to educate the next generation of impact leaders, I reached out to Dr. Barry Craig, President of Huron University, an institution that is redefining liberal arts education to prioritize ethical leadership and community engagement, as much as the pursuit of academic achievement. I wanted to know how universities are setting young people up for success, and what businesses are doing differently to engage with students, or as Barry calls them “Leaders with Heart”.
Paul Klein: What’s context for universities today in terms of educating the next generation of what you’ve called Leaders with Heart?
Barry Craig: In some ways, universities are lagging businesses who have made social change a priority. I believe universities need to put social impact at the core of their mission instead of just financial sustainability. At Huron we started with a compelling mission – educating leaders with heart – and believed that the financial part would follow. And, that’s exactly what has happened. We’ve discovered the impact we can have on the lives of students is wildly disproportionate to the investment we make. We just have to be bold about it and I want to see more universities doing that.
Paul Klein: What you are seeing in terms of young people pursuing careers in general in social impact specifically?
Barry Craig: Today, students are going to university to prepare for a career and an increasing number of students are also concerned about problems in society. So they’re asking where can I go to get an education where canI combine my passion for change with my desire for a career in business?
Paul Klein: What should universities do differently to support the interests of students in having careers and contributing to social change?
Barry Craig: We have to find ways to inject the mission of social change into programs that students are choosing because they will lead to careers. We need to prepare students for life in the corporate world that have a social conscience such as providing business programs that incorporate philosophy and ethics. We also need co-curricular and extracurricular activities that inform the social conscience of students. If we do it right, we end up with ethical students moving the corporate world towards social change. At Huron, we want to move our students ahead in terms of social development and social mobility. We also want to insert these students – leaders with heart – into the boardrooms and C suites.
Paul Klein: One of the most important issues in higher education is equitable access to learning. How can universities create more opportunities for vulnerable people?
Barry Craig: I believe universities need a holistic admission process that’s not simply fixated on SAT scores. We know that students who go to certain schools from certain zip codes with high household incomes are going to have higher scores. I visited a university in India just last month that interviews every single applicant, not only the admissions. They fan faculty and staff teams all around India to try and find heart, integrity, courage.
What’s done in, class, outside of class, and beyond the university walls needs to be integrated. For example one of our students came to us from a refugee camp in Zimbabwe. He’d lost much of his family when their village was raided in the Congo, then made it to Zimbabwe and grew up there. He was the first international student and became the first refugee and Black student to be elected President of our student council in this historic, homogeneous white elite institution. Then we helped him get a job with Empire Company that owns one of Canada’s biggest food retailers. He’s working in the strategy department for the summer, right beside the CEO. He’ll come back in the fall with a job offer post-graduation to move into the corporate world. So what he did in class helped him, but it was what we did outside the class that filled in the rest of the gaps and allowed his talent to shine.
Paul Klein: What do business leaders need to know about hiring young people who want to make the world a better place and work in companies that will help them do that?
Barry Craig: Hiring the divas and the stars, which is what our system has been built to produce, is not the path to the corporate culture you want to create. You want to hire people who are focused on the people around them and the company and not on themselves. Our argument is your company is going to have a better bottom line if you have a stronger corporate culture. And the corporate culture will be created if you’re hiring the right person with the right personal characteristics that also wants to contribute to social change.
I spoke with Barry before the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down affirmative action at colleges and universities. I believe that the most effective solutions to social problems happen when people with lived experience of the same social problems have the opportunity to be leaders. That means more diversity in universities where young people get the education they need to have careers with purpose. Yesterday’s decision may jeopardize diversity in universities and our collective imperative to make the world a better place.
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