The Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games were the first in its history to include social criteria in its sustainability strategy. Previously, strategies focused primarily on advancing green initiatives. For University of Fredericton (UFred) alumna Sandra Hamilton, former Business Manager to Vancouver Olympic CEO John Furlong and Olympic rower Silken Laumann, the 2010 games marked the beginning of a quest to advance more socially responsible business practices and to transform the role of public procurement from Price-Taker to Market-Mover.
“The Vancouver 2010 Games introduced me to the concepts of Social Value and Social Procurement,” said Hamilton, who has operated a business consulting practice for more than 25 years. “Clearly, if we want more socially responsible companies, we are going to have to get a lot better at providing socially responsible business education and rewarding social responsibility in taxpayer-funded contracts.”
In 2012, Hamilton started to research socially responsible Executive MBA programs, finding possible options at Oxford, Harvard and Stanford; but nothing in Canada. Hamilton enjoyed living rurally and raising her two children close to nature. For many years, she successfully operated her consultancy practice from rural locations. Was she really going to have to move to another city – or another country – to pursue a socially-focused MBA?
Canada’s First Social MBA
It was clear to Hamilton that in a country the size of Canada, there was a pressing need for an online, socially-focused Executive MBA program. Increased internet access meant that First Nations and Canadians living rurally should no longer have to leave their communities to pursue a business education. Hamilton approached UFred with the concept of launching Canada’s first social MBA. In no time at all, UFred’s President Don Roy was meeting with Hamilton in her hometown of Comox on Vancouver Island, B.C.
“As President of UFred, one of my priorities is to constantly search the global marketplace for trends in industries that will lead to noticeable educational gaps. I must admit, however, I had not even considered a socially-focused EMBA,” said Roy.
After what he says was an “inspiring initial conversation” with Hamilton, Roy looked into the concept and immediately booked a flight to meet with her.
“The idea of this degree just made so much sense to me and I immediately recognized the values that Sandra would bring to the table in making this degree a reality. I would love to see more corporations embrace a social focus and what better way to make this happen then by providing the marketplace with talented, corporate-ready professionals,” he said.
In January 2013, as the program’s catalyst, Hamilton was the first student to enrol and the first to graduate from the Executive MBA program with a specialty in Social Enterprise Leadership. The stream is also available to MBA students.
Students in the Social Enterprise sphere develop the capabilities to:
- Lead an organization by focusing on a blended value return on investment;
- Balance sustainable profitability with a social mission;
- Work effectively with a Board of Directors and key stakeholders; and
- Financially manage a social enterprise.
The program was purposefully designed for working professionals seeking a high-quality Executive MBA education that could be pursued from home, without any interruption to work and career paths.
“It’s accessible, affordable and flexible. Being able to pursue an Executive MBA from Vancouver Island, while continuing to run my business and balance parenting, certainly kept me busy, but it was manageable,” she said.
Of particular value to Hamilton was the flexibility for students to decide every two months whether or not to sign up for the next two-month course. I only chose to miss one two-month summer course to travel in Europe with my daughter, but having this option makes the entire process much more manageable than the alternate fixed cohort model, especially for busy working parents,” she said.
Throughout her Executive MBA, Hamilton researched international free trade agreements, specifically their role in advancing or constraining socially and environmentally responsible business practices. Through her keynote speeches and demonstration pilots with local governments, Hamilton has been instrumental in providing the education needed to overcome myths and to transform how value is being defined in taxpayer-funded contracts. Public procurement typically represents 14 per cent of GDP and taxpayer-funded contracts can and should be better leveraged to move markets toward the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals.
As the designer of both British Columbia’s and Alberta’s first Social Procurement Frameworks, Hamilton is now recognized as a thought leader and keynote speaker. In 2017, she was recognized by Global Affairs Canada as an industry expert and nominated to profile her innovative work at the World Trade Organization’s Symposium on Sustainable Government Procurement in Geneva, Switzerland. Hamilton serves as a Strategic Advisor to the Ontario Public Buyers Association and the Coalition for the Advancement of Sustainable Procurement in Canada.
In June 2019, Hamilton won an international PhD scholarship to advance her work and research. She is currently in the U.K. at the University of Manchester’s Institute for Innovation Research (@MIOIR), where her topic is Transforming Public Procurement from Price-Taker to Market-Mover (2019 – 2022).
Roy says he is not surprised and expects Hamilton to surpass even her own expectations.
“I am so proud of Sandra and extremely pleased to recognize her as the inaugural UFred EMBA Social Enterprise graduate,” he added.
Follow Sandra on Twitter: @SandraHamilton