Joanne: I chose to go to Stern because at the time I had a great, full time job at a Fortune 500 company and Stern offered the possibility of gaining a top-ranked MBA in the evenings. I had experimented with courses at a few other schools but found the NYU classes to be the most intellectually engaging.
As far as what I enjoyed, it was the professors, many of whom had real work experience and brought it into the classroom. This is why I love teaching at Hult; we all come to our roles having had a lot of work experience. Classes comes to life because we really know what it is like to actually implement the principles we are espousing. Just as I appreciated it back then, so do our students today.
I also enjoyed my fellow classmates, many of whom were also working just like I was. They were very serious, very smart and put a lot of effort into the programme. As I tell my students, all of whom come from around the world, it is about learning as much from each other as it is from the professors.
As far as the biggest challenge, especially because I did go part time, it was trying to balance work, school and home – which I must admit, I did not always do well!
What would you say is an inspiring example of social innovation?
Joanne: For me, true socially driven innovation is innovation that focuses on creating enduring, lasting change and improving the lives of the poor for the long-term.
Using that definition, social innovation is taking place at multiple levels: as services, products, a new way of distribution or a completely new business model. It is happening within corporations, as public-private partnerships and by individual entrepreneurs, driven by passion to make a difference.
As I think about the ones that have so far captured our imagination and whose concepts are now helping to shape further social innovations, I have to say micro-finance – a business model that has transformed the lives of millions and whose fundamental principles are now being applied to create lots of other innovations, such as in distribution systems, etc.
The other is about thinking about novel uses of existing products, such as the many uses for the mobile phone that manufacturers never dreamed of. Like micro-finance, the mobile phone is being integrated into all sorts of other innovations, from gaining access to commodity prices that empower poor farmers to providing vital health information to rural families, to paying for water.
I have no doubt our students will come up with some amazing innovations in the future!
What advice would you give to the next generation of global leaders? What should their main focus be?
Joanne: Today’s global problems need truly global problem-solvers: enlightened leaders and institutions who share a common vision and set of values and have the power, resources and most importantly, the will to achieve it.
Leaders need to focus on creating a more inclusive economy, one that respects all people and their abilities. The more you travel, the more you realise how much we all have the same dreams and hopes and that conflict and violence – which hurt all of us – often arise from frustrated, desperate people. We need to apply our resources and our skills to enable those who have been left out – the four billion poor (and growing!) – providing access to food, health, housing and education so that they can participate more fully in shaping their destinies. Business, with its enormous resources and ability to cross borders, has the power to transform societies.
My advice to tomorrow’s leaders would be to never stop learning and to hold onto a vision of what is possible. Be consistent and true to a set of values that transcend national borders and are fundamental to being human, values like respect, integrity, dignity and kindness. Keep an open mind and try to think holistically: we are all interconnected and interdependent. Empathise and seek to truly understand and engage others – especially those of different nationalities and cultures. Collaborate rather than compete with those who share the same vision. Above all, don’t lose your enthusiasm and idealism, it is what drives change.
True leadership is about purpose, trust, courage and perseverance. Be that ethical, purposeful leader who is capable of building trust and who has the courage and perseverance to pursue the possible.
Read the full Question and Answer Session with Joanne Lawrence.