The London Business School's launch this month of an initiative to raise £200 million for expansion is opportune despite these volatile economic times, according to the dean of the education institution.
“We are a vehicle to actually help address those issues in the world," François Ortalo-Magné tells The National in his office in the UK capital.
"Last week, I sat with someone who gives us one, £1.23 million a year to fund the scholarships for 20 women who could have never, ever dreamt of a world class business education."
Expanding the school’s cohort to include ambitious talent from underprivileged backgrounds is one of the aims of LBS’s new Forever Forward campaign to raise money for investment in the institution.
At present, the school gives 385 scholarships a year, 80 per cent more than it offered in 2016.
The plan is to double that number over the next five years.
“Some people may think now is the wrong time to ask for money but there are others who think that their money can make a difference that is directly relevant to today's problems,” says Mr Ortalo-Magné.
"Scholarships are one way but we are talking to donors about research, sustainability, innovation."
The dean hopes to tap into the institution's international, well-connected and well-heeled alumni for the money and says there are plenty of successful people who will be happy to use LBS as a “vehicle for impact.”
Women like Shalmoli Halder, who grew up in an Indian refugee colony and helped to support her family from a young age after her mother was severely injured in a bomb attack. Ms Halder worked and studied hard throughout her life, attaining a scholarship to Yale and going on to work for non-profits.
She wants to put her learning at LBS to use by building an impact investment vehicle, which brings government and private sectors together to generate affordable housing for the most vulnerable populations in India.
Ms Halder’s spot on the executive MBA programme came courtesy of the Laidlaw Foundation, a British multi-academy trust.
This month the trust gave £3.69 million to Forever Forward, to support 20 women over the next three years, under its Laidlaw Women’s Leadership Fund.
There’s a concerted effort to attract more women to the executive programmes offered, with notable take-up from those in the Middle East.
Nearly a third of this year’s intake at the Dubai campus of LBS were women and the school reported a 15 per cent increase since 2020 in the number of female students in its Executive MBA programme in the city.
Several Middle East-focused scholarships, including one from Emirati businesswoman and former student Muna Al Gurg, for females from the region, have helped raise those stats.
The business school says demand in the UAE, where the school has been present for 15 years, is booming ― while the market in Saudi Arabia has recorded particularly strong growth.
Revenue from high oil prices and ambitious national infrastructure and diversification projects have created ample opportunities for new business and leadership roles in the Emirates.
“It's about channelling this energy and giving people the skills and the mindset they need to help the country grow,” says Mr Ortalo-Magné.
"At some of our programmes, we're very focused on transformation around sustainability, around diversification and that is clearly an interest to the UAE as part of its vision and strategy of being that global marketplace.”
Forever forward’s other ambitions are to expand its academic research department and be able to contribute to evidence-based solutions to contemporary world challenges.
“Everything we do at LBS — and that's differentiator from many other organisations that do business education — we anchor on academic research, no fads. It's about what the evidence is telling us,” says Mr Ortalo-Magné.
Despite seeing a creeping scepticism towards science in some parts of the world, the dean still believes the solutions to the world’s challenges is to “be much more evidence-based” and why “there have to be institutions like ours that keep funding world class research.”
Innovation is another pillar LBS is investing in for greater impact.
Last year’s Mena Start-up Competition 2022 was the first time the institution brought its competitive entrepreneurship model to the Middle East.
A leading tech start-up from Turkey, Ollang, was crowned the winner of the inaugural regional competition, walking away with a cash prize as well as access to venture capital and exposure to LBS’s coveted global network.
It was created by the new Mena-based Entrepreneurship Club, part of London Business School’s Gulf Association, which the dean celebrates as being one of the schools most active alumni clubs.
“They see the power of the network,” he says.
“You might be fooled by the name school into thinking that it’s about paying for teaching but then the teaching is always about on boarding people into our community. That's what we are, a club. That’s what was so wonderful in the Middle East, that strong sense of community.”