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Why Our Institutions Hold the Key to Galvanizing Social Change

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As I sit on the campus of Harvard Business School, I reflect on the myriad issues facing the world today, whether in the realm of poverty, disaster relief, public health, or government corruption. Each of these aspects of society, and indeed the world, have the potential to significantly impact my generation, and thus my own life, more than any typical business job in consulting or finance could ever do. Currently, however, my life is dominated by external influences motivating me to pursue a career in the latter far more than the former. Our educational institutions and government hold the key to reverse this tidal wave of pressure. It is imperative that we seek to view these social issues not as societal or global but as a personal responsibility, and that we are empowered by those who dictate our daily lives to tackle these problems on a collective basis, thus yielding the power to truly change the world.

As the son of immigrant Korean and Lebanese families, I have been raised with the belief that with an education comes the responsibility to make the world a better place. Yet, despite an education at Harvard College and currently at Harvard Business School, not once have I experienced a feeling of urgency from those crafting my educational experience to make a social change -- indeed, a galvanizing force is needed, but sadly absent.

So what could be done? Educational institutions could dedicate a certain amount of time, even one day a year, to an "innovation day" in which students and faculty alike drop what they are working on and focus on a particular social issue. Universities could provide salary stipends for those interested in pursuing the idea further. Government could subsidize programs arising from these meetings to provide tax breaks or certain benefits to support the incubation of such ideas. Can you imagine what kind of solutions could arise from just one day of some of the world's sharpest minds collaborating in this way? Better yet, for the skeptics out there - is there any downside from doing so?

Instead, today, those who are motivated to truly make change are forced to try to make time amidst their own busy schedule, before even trying to involve others. In addition, they must weigh 1) the choices of a high-paying, reliable job versus potentially working with little to no salary, 2) a luxurious, comfortable lifestyle versus one with no health insurance, and 3) a stable life for one's current or future family versus a potentially tumultuous living situation. Without the dedicated and focused encouragement of educational institutions, employers, and the government, it is no wonder why so few people choose to take on such pressing societal issues. And that is why these issues will continue to grow in severity until enough people in my generation, with the support of those who come before us, stand up to the tidal wave and change its course, once and for all.

Daniel Arrigg Koh is a first-year MBA candidate at Harvard Business School. He holds a B.A. in Government from Harvard College. He can be reached at dkoh@mba2011.hbs.edu.