Creating a New MBA focused on sustainability, innovation and entrepreneurship– Deusto Business School

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How do we create an MBA that fully incorporates sustainability and responsible leadership into its programme? How do we embed sustainability across the curriculum? Do we completely change the way that the MBA is structured?

Over the upcoming year I will be providing a range of blogs that explore how different schools have approached this question and the kinds of answers they have proposed. First is Deusto Business School in Spain. They have created a new, one-year programme, starting this April 2013, which embeds sustainability and responsible leadership into all aspects of the programme. I recently had the chance to speak to David Ruiz de Olano, Director of MBA Programmes from Deusto, about their new programme.

1. Why did you decide to create this new programme?

MBA programmes and Business School are at a crossroad right now. Companies, students and society are demanding a review of the objectives, curricula and outcomes of the MBA to really serve business and society. Therefore, we decided to start from scratch and create a programme that tackles the problems companies and executives are facing today and tomorrow.

We turned to the Principles for Responsible Management Education and created an MBA directly based on and inspired by these. We wanted to create an MBA that was both traditional and disruptive in the way that it is designed, providing a unique programme for students to gain solid management skills but also have a solid understanding of the future business agenda and be an integral part of shaping and pushing that agenda forward.

2. Deusto Business School is located in the Basque region. Why is Northern Spain an interesting place in terms of sustainability, innovation and entrepreneurship?

Northern Spain has a long tradition of entrepreneurship and industrial companies, with a high level of internationalization. Basque Country has always taken a clear position facilitating the internationalization and investment of its companies: for example an R&D Investment /GDP ratio of 2% that is higher than in Spain (1.2%) and similar to Europe (2.82% in Germany).

In the Basque region, there is also a long tradition of entrepreneurship (actually, the founder of the College was an entrepreneur who went to Las Americas). Our region has created some of the most important companies in Spain (such as banking group BBVA, or energy company Iberdrola). This provides a unique opportunity for students to study in the heart of the Basque country at our campuses in Bilbao and San Sebastian but also at our third campus in Madrid, the center of economic activity in Spain.

 3. Briefly describe the new MBA at Deusto

When designing the programme we decided that there were three elements that were key for future leaders.  These three elements are truly embedded into every class that is offered in the new MBA. This includes:

  • Sustainability: Sustainability is embedded into all areas of business looking at both the collective business and how to embed sustainability into organizational strategy and the global supply chain but also the students’ individual capacity to be sustainability leaders.
  • Digital strategy: The focus here is on the digital and networked world of individuals and organizations, looking at the impact of information technologies on people and companies as well as how to use technology to solve world problems.
  • Innovation and entrepreneurship: The focus here is on developing critical thinking and creative leadership with students, to give them the skills and mindset of an entrepreneur. Students have the chance to work with an innovative start up or to work on an innovative, entrepreneurial project with a company throughout the school year.

The new programme offers both a global and local vision of business with students spending time during the programme studying at one of the University of Deusto’s campuses (Bilbao), a term in New York City in the US as well as time in a developing or emerging country working on a service learning project focused on entrepreneurial activity associated with conflict resolution (including Kenya, Congo, Tanzania, Peru, India, Venezuela or Cambodia).

Also the new programme offers students the opportunity to really get engaged with companies on these topics. There will be a range of high profile events with the Spanish and European business community for students to participate in. In addition, students will have the opportunity to work with companies on specific projects, both short projects as well as a longer, full term project to have the opportunity to put their learnings into practice.

4. What tips would you have for other schools creating new programmes around sustainability or incorporate sustainability into existing programmes?

Engage faculty from the beginning, each institution has its own internal resistance to any change and this is a change. Faculty may be already working on these issues, you just need to give them room. Also, forget the “nice” approach of being sustainable, this is another framework for business that concentrates on the generation of new market opportunities.

5. What’s next?

We are currently accepting students for our first class starting in April 2013 which already contains a good mix of students from around the world. Students also have access to a large number of grants. The response has been very good due to the uniqueness of the programme. It is perhaps the only programme in the world that combines a focus of sustainability with one of innovation and entrepreneurship.

Because Deusto is a very well established university in Spain, students will have access to an excellent range of companies across Spain, Europe and the world for placements and post MBA jobs and we are continuing to work on ensuring that plenty of interesting opportunities exist for our graduating students. Moving forward we will continue to strengthen the programme and develop our growing network of partnerships with the business sector in this area.


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