Berkeley-Haas Takes Stock of Its Broader Mission

It’s no secret that one of Berkeley-Haas’s defining characteristics is its emphasis on placing business in the larger context of social and environmental responsibility.

The school’s four defining principles, starting with “Question the Status Quo” and “Beyond Yourself,” are imbued with the idea of redefining business leadership and looking for ways to alter the trajectory of trends that are increasingly unsustainable.

But the range of programs and activities tied to that broader mission is so wide that even people immersed in the Berkeley-Haas community have only a fragmentary sense of what’s happening or who is driving it.

The Institute for Business and Social Impact — which includes the Center for Responsible Business, the Center for Nonprofit Leadership and Management, the Graduate Program in Health, and the Global Social Venture Competition – is a big part of that effort.

But the broader mission to spur “path-bending” leadership permeates every corner of the school. It is embedded in the core curriculum as well in electives and our experiential courses in applied innovation. It is a major focal point of research, in areas as diverse as clean technology, sustainable business products, social entrepreneurship, and poverty reduction. It is part of a constant dialogue that occurs through conferences, speakers series, published research business-plan competitions and student-run activities.

Now there is more complete picture. Earlier this month, the school submitted a comprehensive report on its efforts to carry out the United Nations Principles on Responsible Management Education – or PRME.

Under PRME, business schools around the world have pledged to promote and advance principles aimed at developing leaders and strategies to address urgent global problems, from climate change to entrenched poverty. Business schools that sign on to the PRME principles are required to document their progress, as well as the work they believe still needs to done, every two years. Berkeley-Haas signed on in 2012, and this is its first report.

The new report is packed with information, starting with a description of how the school’s defining principles and values shape admissions, the curriculum, research and student activity.

As the report makes clear, this is both a top-down and a bottom-up effort. Berkeley-Haas has a long tradition of social sector innovation and the development of new strategies to harness the power of markets toward a more sustainable future.

“We see it as our responsibility to equip each student with the tools and the mindset to become an innovative leader and to make that difference, one at a time,’’ writes Dean Richard Lyons in an introductory message. “We have codified a culture that values questioning the status quo and becoming stewards of something larger than ourselves.”

The report notes that Berkeley-Haas both requires and enables business students to assume their broader responsibilities. The curriculum includes required courses on ethics, for example, as well as a vast array of electives and courses in applied innovation. But students themselves play a leading role through dozens of student-run organizations. The annual Global Social Venture Competition, in which social-enterprise start-ups from dozens of countries compete for $50,000 in awards, is one of many such efforts.

That is just the tip of the iceberg. Berkeley-Haas is a hub for public-private partnerships in clean technologies; cutting-edge research on new strategies for poverty reduction and health care; new studies on the role of women in business; and new ways to challenge conventional wisdom.

The report cautions that this remains a work in progress, and it outlines objectives for the years ahead. But it leaves no doubt that the defining principle of “beyond yourself” is deeply and permanently embedded in the Berkeley-Haas DNA.

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