A New Kind of Business School:
Expanding through Collaboration
Libba & Gifford Pinchot, Bainbridge Graduate Institute
In the 20 years that Gifford and Elizabeth (Libba) Pinchot spent as innovation consultants for Fortune 100 businesses, they found that many executives trained in business schools held beliefs counter- productive to a healthy environment and a just society. They realized that if business leaders were trained to ignore their broader responsibility to society and the environment, the business school curriculum had to change. “Because of business school education as usual,” Gif explains, “we are missing untold innovation opportunities for both improved conditions for people and the planet and the creation of good jobs.”
“The only solution was to reinvent the MBA,” Libba says. “First by doing it ourselves and then by helping other schools to change.”
Nearly twenty-five years ago Gifford was a participant in SVN’s founding meeting, during which the possible missions for SVN were discussed. One idea was to create a socially responsible business school. That idea never faded in Gifford and Libba’s minds, which is one reason BGI exists today.
In 2002, Bainbridge Graduate Institute (BGI) launched their MBA in Sustainable Business, a graduate degree focused on leading socially and environmentally responsible change through business. While other schools have since started offering concentrations in sustainability, only BGI and a few other collaborating programs integrate social and environmental responsibility into every class, including finance, marketing and organizational systems. Innovation and venture design – both entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial – is a hallmark of the curriculum.
“BGI is an incubator for business education so other schools can teach these principles,” Libba says. “Many faculty members from other institutions immerse themselves in our monthly residential program and return to their home school inspired to teach differently. Many other schools are asking BGI for help in designing sustainable MBA programs.”
BGI’s network model for social responsibility and sustainability education is inspired by the membership and practices of SVN. “Without SVN there would be no BGI,” says Libba. “SVN inspired us to believe in the possibility of a socially responsible business school, and instilled the network model that makes BGI’s work high-impact.” SVN’s members, who understood taking an entrepreneurial stand on the basis of deep values, gave the founders courage to start BGI, and provided counsel and contributions over the next ten years.
From their beginnings only one year apart, BGI and the Presidio School of Management in San Francisco collaborated. Presidio staff designing their upcoming program attended the first year of BGI’s action learning curriculum, and the founders of BGI attended the Presidio curriculum design meetings that year. Gif says that it was useful and exciting to learn together.
Both institutions gained courage from the collaboration. Presidio began offering an MBA in Sustainable Management in August 2003 on a similar model to BGI, using some of the same faculty. Both programs provide students with the opportunity to work with a variety of companies and organizations solving real-time challenges while?they’re learning how to think like sustainable managers. Presidio CEO Bill Shutkin says, “Through our experiential learning curricula, the MBA programs prepare professionals to lead organizations—private, public or non- profit—in ways that are more socially and environmentally responsible as well as financially successful.”
In 2009, Marlboro College in Vermont initiated an MBA in Managing for Sustainability, as an outgrowth of the collaboration. Ralph Meima, the program founder and director, says “BGI has been very helpful to us, and our program is modeled after theirs, which has proven to be successful.” All three of the programs employ monthly intensives, blended online and face-to-face learning, and highly experiential, integrated curricula, which allow working professionals to learn while attending school.