The power of purpose for the next generation

08 September 2023

Matthew Conisbee asks ‘Is it time for business schools and universities to help high schools drive purpose through their curricula?’

For some time now, many of the leading business schools the world over have been incorporating the concept of organisational and individual purpose into their ethos and teaching.

The recipe: ensure the students have a solid grasp of business fundamentals. Then support them to develop the kind of leadership skills the next generation needs to make positive changes in business and society at large – everything from understanding complex systems change, to soft skills like leading virtual teams and how to build resilience. All whilst encouraging them to consider their own life purpose and the legacy they want to leave behind, as they navigate their own career choices and direction.

Business schools support students in numerous ways in this regard, not just encouraging them to reflect on how they may achieve this through different stages of their lives, but also helping to equip them with the right kind of mindset to succeed and thrive as they enter new phases.

But why do our educational institutions wait for a select number of the next generation to attend business school to fully tap into this? Surely there is a strong case to expose younger adults and even high school pupils to this kind of thinking…

It is well known that budgets to support careers advice for high school pupils are stretched to the max. But so much could be done to adapt the existing provision. The focus is still very much on funnelling individuals towards higher education and then careers linked to areas where they are academically strong. Clearly there is some merit in this, but wouldn’t individuals and society be better served if the business school model was introduced earlier?

Some strides have been made in high school curricula to focus on aspects of leadership and entrepreneurship, for example, but - especially in a context of growing life expectancy, multiple career shifts likely during our lifetimes, and ever more complex global challenges - shouldn’t this be enhanced and accelerated?

Mini programmes centred on asking pupils to think deeply about what intrinsically motivates them would serve a number of purposes. It would radically reframe how pupils think about their future careers and lives; it would help them to make better choices going into higher education or any other path they choose; and, if coupled with some teaching around the kind of skills needed to lead through these complex times, it would help to give the younger generation more agency, and more drive and know-how to mould their futures to better serve both themselves, their families and their communities.

The MIT Leadership Training Institute is one of a number of examples of business schools offering development to high school pupils, but programmes tend to focus solely on leadership as well as core business skills, rather than encourage them to think about their purpose and drivers at this pivotal time in their lives.

Quite a shift is needed to achieve this new thinking. But is it time for our governments and educational institutions to step up and drive change through the system? Future organisations and society would be the ultimate beneficiaries. 


Matthew Conisbee is a freelance consultant who has led strategic initiatives and programmes for educational institutions, governments and corporates. He was previously the MBA Programme Director at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford.


Photo by Stanley Morales:

Photo by Stanley Morales:

 Photo by Stanley Morales:

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