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Business School: Insights on CSR and Prepping for Socially Responsible Careers

Aug 2, 2023
Learn about corporate social responsibility (CSR) and how business school can prepare for a socially responsible career with hands-on learning

By Eigen Escario

Pictured: Mario Avila, Founding Director of Vanderbilt’s Turner Family Center for Social Ventures, explains the concept of CSR

Mario Avila

From recent graduates to seasoned professionals, many join the corporate world with aspirations of achieving their maximum career and salary potential. However, with increasing awareness and demand for more ethical practices in the workplace, corporate social responsibility (CSR) encourages better leadership in business across many fronts. Mario Avila, Vanderbilt Assistant Professor of the Practice of Management and Founding Director of Vanderbilt’s Turner Family Center for Social Ventures, explains the concept of CSR and how business school prepares you for a socially responsible career.

Corporate Social Responsibility vs. Social Impact

CSR refers to initiatives from corporations that work with local nonprofits and governments to integrate social and environmental concerns into their business. On the other hand, social entrepreneurship deals with entities that are directly focused on solving particular problems through hands-on advocacy.

“CSR initiatives are typically done through philanthropy or other ethical business practices that are engaging with the community and other stakeholders to pledge to social responsibility,” Avila said. “Social entrepreneurship looks at the pursuit of innovative and sustainable solutions to problems that are created and established ventures by individuals whose primary purpose focuses on certain social or environmental missions.”

Avila’s role mainly works with social entrepreneurship at Vanderbilt’s Turner Family Center – a different school of thought from CSR, but it shares some key overlaps that are valuable in the market. He also highlights the curriculum at Owen that supports these 2 aspects of ethical practices in business.

Mark Cohen, Professor of American Competitive Enterprise, leads the field in corporate responsibility and lends his extensive experience with corporate accountability at Owen, along with other coursework that addresses sustainability and social impact emphasis,” Avila said.

Business school resources that prepare you for a socially responsible career 

Resources like the Turner Family Center (TFC) for Social Ventures also seek to cultivate these sentiments and apply these concepts in the workplace as business schools like Owen continue to foster ethical leadership long after the program.

“Our core mission as a center is to support students along their leadership development with a focus on a social mission or impact,” Avila said. “We get a lot of students that are interested in going back into the corporate sector while also thinking about ways in which they can help support and influence those corporations and the work that they do within their communities.”

Avila further explains the value of hands-on learning that exposes students to the different ways that they can support and influence corporations in terms of community impact. The TFC features Immersion Treks that dissect how corporations or nonprofits address social issues within a community, whether it be a local or international excursion.

“An example of a trek we did years ago was a trip to Upper East Tennessee and Appalachia – we consulted with several different companies, medical centers, and local government officials who were really trying to address the opioid epidemic in Johnson City and the surrounding areas,” Avila said. “So when we have many of our students go on to companies like Eastman Chemical Company, they can observe the direct connection of their profits to the social and environmental issues that certain communities are facing.”

Practicing CSR In The Workplace

While the core sentiments and tenets of CSR are certainly useful in classroom settings and enrichment programs in business school, applying it in the workplace across any profession is much more impactful to society.

“At the end of the day, I tell students to be the best supply chain manager that they can be,” Avila said. “Making the extra effort to have an impact beyond your specific function in the supply chain is the best way to integrate CSR in more corporate settings.”

And while it’s important to come out of business school with expertise in a specific function, like marketing or operations, it is essential to keep in mind the mission of embedding ethical and moral leadership within business.

“CSR is embedded into all functions of business, and having an underlying mindset of supporting a greater mission, whether it be environmental issues or community responsibility, in whatever function of business you operate in is important,” Avila said. “Our purpose is not to create a wave of social entrepreneurs – we want to create and embed ethical, moral leadership within business.”

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