Global Ambitions

Crusaders for a better world 
need business smarts too

MBA training does more than hone the skills of the corporate warrior. Courses in management also equip students to pursue social justice and economic development in areas far from downtown boardrooms.

Just ask Maryanne Mathias, who takes her management skills to the villages of Ghana, where she employs local crafts­people to sew clothing that her company, Osei-Duro Clothing, designs. Mathias was an independent fashion designer armed with a degree in fashion design and technology from Kwantlen Polytechnic University when she set out on her career in fashion design. She quickly realized, however, that there’s more to haute couture than travelling the world researching exotic fabrics and designs for boutiques in North America. If she was going to get serious about a career in fashion, she needed to go back to school. 

“To advance my business acumen I enrolled in UBC and attended the MBA program,” she explains. There she learned a more disciplined approach that took into account the range of factors she encounters in her work, and how they fit together. “It helped me develop a picture of the world, how development work and business fit in it,” she says.

While Mathias still has to deal with the day-to-day issues such as managing quality control and cultural differences, she is more apt to weigh the options available to her and gauge the outcomes. “I am more prone to take time to evaluate my options before just jumping in,” she explains.

The results benefit not just her business, but the people who produce Osei-Duro’s garments. Returning to Ghana this past January, Mathias had a better sense of how to help Osei-Duro facilitate development in communities where it operates while ensuring local skills align with the goals of her business.

The tension between social objectives and business exigencies is just as sharp in Toronto, where Kate Strachan works as director of consumer engagement for Me to We Social Enterprises. Graduating with an MBA from UVic last year, Strachan oversees a business that channels half its profits to fund the administrative costs of the child labour charity Kids Can Free the Children. The remainder supports its own operations, such as a storefront location in downtown Toronto that sells merchandise and hosts information nights about its programs.

But in order to be successful, she says, social enterprises need the same business acumen any for-profit enterprise does, even if its profits support a charitable endeavour. Unfortunately, the people attracted to social enterprises are usually the same people attracted to the not-for-profit side of the operation; the social objectives are their passion, not the management required to achieve those goals.

“It doesn’t typically attract people with a business background,” she says. However, she adds, “you still need the HR skills, you still need the organizational management skills, you still need the financial accountability.”

The training an MBA offers, as both Strachan and Mathias are finding, helps ensure organizations can thrive and achieve their respective goals. “I have been looking at the business more like a business, and the need for it to make a profit,” Mathias says of Osei-Duro. “After all, when we continue to thrive, so do our employees.” – Peter Mitham