Business ethics and beyond

Note: This post is written by ASU Business Senior, Doreen Zhao. Doreen is one of five interns that elected to do their senior project with Gangplank.

ASU management students have to take a business ethics course. We spend our time talking about responsible management and how companies are shifting their focus to stakeholders, rather than simply shareholders. This ethics class has a service-learning requirement, which has us work with a nonprofit organization and is what brings me and my classmates to Gangplank. In theory, we are supposed to see how a nonprofit works and apply classroom concepts to real life. In practice, this service-learning requirement does much more than simply teach us about the “stakeholder model” and the value of ethics. It introduced us to a completely new concept of working, and allowed us to see the results of putting many energetic, creative people into one open space.

The attitude at Gangplank seems to be “contribute what you can and when you can”. This positive attitude has been our motivation so far, and we’ve all been involved in a variety of tasks, from helping at the Desert Bloom festival, assisting with conferences, researching for the annual report, and putting together workshops for Gangplank Jr. It doesn’t matter that we are students (and sometimes have no idea what we are doing); everyone is excited to have us there and involved. I’m not sure if this kind of energy is unique to nonprofits or just to Gangplank, but the can-do attitude is pretty contagious. It’s easy to see how it can be a driver in innovation.

Of course, for our assignment we have to reflect how working with the nonprofit is related to class. So far, the clearest connection is to our class discussions about the stakeholder model, where businesses are focused on how their actions impact everyone involved in the business. As far as we can see, Gangplank is benefiting every stakeholder they can: small business owners, the Chandler community, anchor company employees, schoolchildren. Even the shops and restaurants in downtown Chandler around Gangplank have been positively impacted, as the influx of people brings new business.

Not many business schools require a business ethics class, and many people scoff at what sounds like an oxymoron. For our volunteer team, we definitely see the importance of responsible management and a strong company culture. We spend so much time talking in class about businesses that place profits over people, and it gets depressing—who would ever want to be manager? Perhaps that is what this class about, making us see first-hand the positive effects of an organization on its stakeholders so we can take that lesson with us when we graduate.

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