Training Business People to Solve Social Problems

December 6, 2012


Since we began developing our pedagogy, which is a way of placing our stake in the ground and saying “judge us on this”, we’ve been hearing from diverse sources of the relevance of our work for private sector corporations. April 30, 1934

At first, this surprised us. After all, we began this to develop talent for solving social problems, and to help foster more relevant higher education. But the people urging us to work with corporations have already ranged from a Partner at McKinsey to an investment analyst at the International Finance Corporation to a business leader in India. Then we read this article in The Guardian (disclosure: the author, Felix Oldenburg, is a colleague at Ashoka) and started to understand where such advice was coming from. Put simply, as the business and social sectors increasingly blur together, CEOs are starting to understand that they need staff who can work within communities, navigate the tricky waters of social change, and act in the larger public interest (not just for shareholders). Says Oldenburg,

“much like organisations need a business model to attract investors, they increasingly need a “social model”, a reason why people should want to engage with them. Any executive without a plan to empower his staff, turn stakeholders into co-creators, and create hybrid value chains with social innovators…may find himself a freelancer soon.”

We’re still not sure how to go about pitching this idea to leaders of companies, and we welcome any advice on that, dear Reader.  But our thinking has certainly flipped on this. We now plan to actively enroll people from private companies into our training programs. The nature of society’s problems require people who can cross boundaries, and just as social sector leaders need to learn more about businesses, so too business people must start sharpening their social problem-solving skills. After all, as the article says, in these times of change,

“…we must also reinforce our communities’ ability to solve the inevitable social challenges that come with ever faster change… Solving more problems requires more active problem solvers.”

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