Because Singapore is a member of CEMS, a global alliance of business schools, Mr. Say was able to divide his second year of study between two other CEMS campuses, the École des Hautes Études Commerciales de Paris, or H.E.C., and the London School of Economics. At H.E.C., Mr. Say studied for a Real Estate certificate, and seemed destined for a fast-track career in international property development. But thanks to a chance encounter at the CEMS graduation ceremony he is now working for the Grameen Bank, the microfinance community development bank which, along with its founder, Muhammad Yunus, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. “I realized that I will have my whole life to pursue my career,” Mr. Say said in an interview. “I thought I should try something really different. And what I’ve learned from my work here is a very different approach to what we were taught in business school. It’s a far more simple and down-to-earth way of doing things. And it’s very effective.”
According to Thomas Bieger, chairman of CEMS and president of the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland, business schools and the nonprofit sector have much to teach each other. “In the aftermath of the world financial crisis, business schools came in for a lot of criticism,” he said. “Some people argued we were co-responsible for the crisis, because we had been teaching the wrong methods, and not paying enough attention to questions of ethics and sustainability.” “Actually our faculty have always been interested in corporate social responsibility,” Dr. Bieger said. “And we have always encouraged our students to pay attention to what happens to the employees of a company, and to what happens to the local communities. But we felt that we had to improve our efforts — and to give those efforts more visibility.” So at the end of last year, CEMS, which had already forged partnerships with more than 70 corporations from the pharmaceutical giant Astra-Zeneca and Google to Shell and Statoil and Zurich insurance, inaugurated its first “social partnerships.”
Like the corporate partners, social partners will be involved in shaping the curriculum, advising on admissions and in some cases actually teaching or developing courses. “We don’t want passive partners,” said Kevin Titman, a spokesman for the CEMS head office based at H.E.C. It was CEMS students who first came up with, and pushed for, the idea of social partnerships, he said. Although the group hopes to eventually include a dozen social partners, so far they have formalized relationships with three: CARE, the international aid organization; Fairtrade International, which campaigns for the rights of producers and farmers; and the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, which aims to improve cross-cultural understanding. A fourth partnership, with Transparency International, the anti-corruption organization, is expected to be announced in the next few weeks. The new social partners will all be given seats on the CEMS governing body, and, like their corporate counterparts, have privileged access to recruiting CEMS students for internships and as graduates. But while the corporate partners pay €23,000, or $31,000, a year for membership, the social partners will not be charged.
Founded in 1988 as the Community of European Management Schools, CEMS began with just four members: H.E.C. Paris, the Bocconi University in Milan, ESADE in Barcelona, and the University of Cologne. But in recent years the group has expanded far beyond the boundaries of Europe, now comprising 26 member schools including Tsinghua University in China, Keio in Japan, the Graduate School of Management at St. Petersburg University, the Koc University Graduate School of Business in Turkey and the Fundação Getulio Vargas-EAESP in Brazil. Consistently ranked in the top three programs of its kind, the CEMS Masters in International Management typically attracts students with little or no business experience. “Our students tend to come to us straight after their undergraduate degrees,” Mr. Titman said. Students pay no tuition for their second year, he said, and are required to spend at least one term of that year as a student in another CEMS school (though some, like Mr. Say, choose to spend both terms of their second year abroad.) Graduates are awarded two degrees, one from their home university and one from CEMS.