Soon after Sanjay Sharma was named Dean of the University of Vermont’s Grossman School of Business, he called his friend Stuart Hart with a proposition: join him in building the first MBA program in the United States that serves to address the world’s most pressing sustainability issues through business innovation.
Hart, the authority on the implications of environment and poverty on business strategy, signed up, eager to attract a growing number of business students more concerned with solving critical sustainability issues than just turning a profit.
Four years later, The Sustainable Innovation MBA is ranked among the top programs worldwide, including a No. 1 ranking in The Princeton Review’s 2018 “Best Green MBA” league table, and a spot on CEO Magazine’s list of top MBAs in North America. The program is also ranked 8th in the world on Corporate Knights’ 2017 Better World MBA Rankings, and was selected as the grand prize winner of the 2015 Page Prize for Sustainability Issues in Business Curricula.
The main drivers behind the program’s success has been the addition of highly-regarded faculty, an entirely revamped curriculum, and a new career management system designed to propel students into careers in renewable energy, clean tech, affordable healthcare, and other innovative ventures.
Launching students into their dream job
The creation of a four-phase career management system, called Launch, is proving attractive to prospective students seeking exclusive access to The Sustainable Innovation MBA’s Changemaker Network – an ecosystem of more than 125 companies and individuals focused on sustainable business. Professor Hart, who co-leads the program as Director of Practicums and External Relations, says that the Changemaker Network “is the largest, most robust network in this space globally.”
In the initial Discovery Phase, students draft a professional vision and identify one of five career pathways: mission-based companies; larger corporations in a sustainability or innovation role; joining or launching a start-up; impact investing; and consulting. Students receive career coaching, mentoring and skill development from professionals within the identified pathway during the Focus phase before tailoring job pitches, resumes, personal branding, and selection of potential employers during the Customize phase.
“It’s a systematic approach to help students identify career paths through assessment tools and career counseling, starting on day one,” says Professor and Program Director David Jones. “Students receive career coaching and attend over 50 career panels, speaker sessions, and networking events where they are exposed to business leaders and entrepreneurs within sustainable business.”
Students partner with companies doing practicums worldwide
A three-month practicum with a partner company serves as a capstone experience of the one-year program, helping students put their knowledge and skills to use.
Practicums send students around the world to work with diverse companies including Facebook, Ben & Jerry’s, PepsiCo, Keurig Green Mountain, and Seventh Generation. Two- and three-person student teams develop business and action plans for new sustainable business initiatives, or work within a corporation that’s aiming to embed sustainability as part of its core strategy.
Practicums focus on a wide range of issues and have included how to make the internet affordable to underserved areas of India; helping people living in poverty in Mexico create sustainable housing by equipping them with technical, educational and financial skills; and drafting a business plan for what a “farm of the future” would need to be sustainable.