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September 11, 2008

Closing the Management Gap in Public Service

Glenn Hubbard
Dean and Russell L. Carson Professor of Finance and Economics
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Tonight, Senators McCain and Obama will speak about public service here at Columbia University. They are likely to talk about creating a program for a year of national service. That is a fine idea, but what strikes me today is that there is a management gap in service: Social organizations need people with managerial skills to better achieve their goals and support their mission.

The greatest constraint in solving the world’s most pressing problems, from health care to environmental policy to poverty, is not a lack of ideas. Many great minds, including those of large numbers of Columbia faculty members, are focused on research relating to society’s most fundamental challenges.

What the social sector still needs, however, is management. Management, along with the ability to get things done, is the scarcest skill among those who devote themselves to service. A desire to do good is an absolute requirement, but in order to navigate complex social and governmental channels and effectively create change, one must be equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to analyze, decide, and lead.

That’s what business schools do. Top business schools are producing MBAs whose management skills will be invaluable in the social sector—even if they are not necessarily the people who are running nonprofit organizations. I argue that what a lot of development and health care reform efforts are missing is the involvement of people who know how to manage and run large, complicated organizations. If management is the scarce skill, then that means business schools need a seat at the public service table.

Columbia Business School’s involvement in Africa and other emerging markets and its health care management, entrepreneurship, and social enterprise programs are just some of ways we are committed to service. We also have programs to train principals for New York City schools and work with community businesses here in Upper Manhattan. We are taking management skills and actively applying them to public service.

Senators Obama and McCain have already demonstrated their understanding of the critical importance of business in creating and sustaining economic growth. It is my hope that when they take the stage this evening at ServiceNation’s Presidential Candidates Forum, they will also convey the need to engage business and businesspeople in the social sector.

Senators McCain and Obama will discuss their views on public service and civic engagement in Alfred Lerner Hall at Columbia University as part of the ServiceNation Summit event. Their discussion will be simulcast on a large screen facing Low Plaza at 7:00 p.m.


by Jeff Bochsler | October 15, 2008 at 5:01 PM

Glenn, you bring up a very good point. To add more validity to your point, I believe many young leaders of today are inspired by the works of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Moreover, microcredit financing and the nature of this non-profit sector promotes managerial skills and acumen. Have you found a shift in this direction? Or is it still too early to tell? Jeff Bochsler 805.450.9616

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