THE BLOG
10/01/2013 05:04 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Changing the Social Conscience of Business Students

When you think of business school students, what do you think of? Do you view them as the next generation of managers, armed with a Millennial mindset and a solid grounding in business principles? Or do you see them as socially-minded young people (more so than previous generations) searching for greater meaning in their careers? How about both?

As President of Hult international business school, I can say with conviction that many students today seek out a business program that allows them to blend core business skills with "doing good". In other words, they want the opportunity to learn about social entrepreneurship firsthand -- not just read about it in a case study or textbook. Through the Hult Prize, the largest student business competition in the world, we galvanize students from across the globe
to do just that.

The goal of the competition is to solve some of the most complex social problems on Earth--literally. But there's more to it than the entrepreneurial scope, the financial jackpot, and the bragging rights that go along with winning something.

The competition is imbued with a philosophy that profoundly impacts the students who participate in it, the staff and students who organize it, and the faculty and mentors who provide guidance and mentorship. Without a doubt, the Hult Prize sparks a profound change in the social conscience of the thousands of people who compete each year. In my view, the competition follows three progressive steps that trigger a metamorphosis of sorts in the participants : education, engagement and transformation.

Education

This year's Hult Prize competition challenged entrants to create a social enterprise that secures food for undernourished communities, particularly for the 200 million people that live in urban slums. 12,000 students applied to compete in this challenge, and every single one of these students began by educating themselves first. They had to roll up their sleeves and learn about the myriad issues involved in the call to action, while racking their brains on potential business
solutions. As a result, the first round of the competition taught thousands of students more about the challenge topic than they had ever known before. Perhaps some even developed a greater sense of compassion as their knowledge grew. It's also clear that many now have a keener understanding of how business and social problems are inextricably linked -- and how the solutions have to be as well.

Engagement

It's one thing to come up with a creative idea aimed at battling a thorny, global issue. It's a much greater undertaking to build an idea into an actual business venture that will have a sustainable impact for years to come. The Hult Prize is structured so students become incredibly passionate about their ideas to solve deeply-entrenched problems.

Passion, however, is just one part of the engagement step. Going from local competitions within their schools to the inter-school regional rounds of the competition, teams must be fully engaged to present and defend their proposed solutions. To move on, students are expected to refine their ideas, prototype solutions, and clearly articulate to independent panel of judges why their venture offers the best solution. The experiential element of this process--with some teams even going into "the field" to conduct research and test solutions--inevitably leads to deeper learnings than the traditional learning environment typically offers.

Transformation

The Hult Prize competition is a year-long process, and teams work incredibly hard, also tackling their regular schedule of coursework at the same time. This is no easy feat, and it forces students to develop critical skills like time management, team building, and conflict negotiation. But something even more profound happens along the way; as teams endeavor to transform the world through their proposed ventures, they find that they themselves are transformed in the process. Students may feel at times that they are stretched beyond their limits, but they emerge with the kind of knowledge and experience that can take years to develop in the real world.

I am incredibly proud that what started as a seedling of an idea four years ago at Hult has evolved into a business competition that inspires thousands of students all over the world. And, I am incredibly grateful for all the support the educational and business communities have provided. Given all the pressing global issues we are facing -- problems that require vastly comprehensive fixes -- it's very heartening to see so many of tomorrow's leaders developing business acumen alongside a very vibrant social conscience.

This blog post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and The Hult Prize, an international competition that awards $1 million to a student team of entrepreneurs for social good. The prize was presented by former-President Bill Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting in New York City on September 23. For more information about The Hult Prize, click here.

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