How to Develop Empathetic Business School Graduates

Empathy is a skill needed for business and society. Goa Institute of Management shares its innovative strategy for developing empathy in business students.

This session was part of the 2023 NBS Sustainability Centres Community (SCC) Student Engagement Series. Engagement can mean listening to students, enabling their ideas, sparking their interest in sustainability, and more. In the Series, centres shared their best practices for engagement.

In education, learning outside the classroom is essential. For Goa Institute of Management (GIM), such learning has been a powerful way to develop empathy in their students.  

For 10 years, GIM has run the GiveGoa program, a service-learning initiative for all students. It’s a mandatory weekly program which combines community service with explicit learning objectives, preparation, and reflection.

Why the focus on empathy? Ultimately, business graduates are charged with creating solutions for society. If they don’t understand or prioritize all members of society, the solutions will fail. Empathy’s also a skill valued within organizations, by employees and employers.

But traditional business schools, with their analytical focus, aren’t able to develop sufficient sensitivity in students. So GIM has taken a different approach. Dr. Divya Singhal and colleague Dr. V Padhmanabhan from GIM’s Centre for Social Sensitivity and Action described how the GiveGoa program engages students.

In the video above, Drs. Singhal and Padhmanabhan share details on how they develop student empathy. Some of their strategies are listed below.

How to Develop Empathy in Business Students

1.     Get outside the classroom

GiveGoa exposes students to the realities of their communities, which many students in elite institutions are sheltered from. As students work with local farmers or in informal settlements, they become more aware of others’ circumstances and the positive aspects of helping them.

Students see the value of the experience. One student commented: “As a professional in the industry, it’s very important to understand your society, your roots and your own background. GiveGoa, in this light, is very beneficial.”

Through GiveGoa, students have helped local entrepreneurs with marketing, streamlined processes and increased productivity for non-profits, and found better ways to connect farmers to the market. 

2.     Prioritize engagement

No classes take place at GIM on Thursdays. Instead, students dedicate time to their GiveGoa placement. As an institution, GIM prioritizes the program, as shown by its mandatory nature. GIM also highlights the program in its public communications, increasing student awareness and commitment. 

3.     Build in reflection

Service learning as a methodology requires reflection. For Singhal, this process is the most important part of the program. 

In academic training, Singhal notes, she was “always taught how to report, not to reflect.” She has carefully curated questions in the GiveGoa program to facilitate reflection.

Find Out More

GiveGoa’s organizers hope this program can be a model for other empathy-building programs across the globe. With questions, please reach out to vp@gim.ac.in or at cssa@gim.ac.in 

Are you interested in student engagement? Find videos from the other sessions in this series:

About the Hosts

Divya Singhal is Professor of General Management and Chairperson of the Centre for Social Sensitivity and Action. She joined the Goa Institute of Management (GIM) in 2006. She has four years of journalism experience and almost four years of teaching experience prior to GIM. She was a Doctoral Fellow, ICSSR Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India and was a recipient of President Guide Award (It is a National Level Award and the certificate signed by Hon’ble President of India.) She currently teaches subjects -Business Research Methods and Music & Management. Her research interests have been in the areas of human development, gender issues, socioeconomics, governance, education, quality management etc.

V Padhmanabhan is an Associate Professor and the Chairperson of the GiveGoa initiative. His teaching and research interests are in the area of individual & group dynamics, and organization development. His curiosity is in observing group processes as a phenomena and its impact on the group and organizational performance. He is an organizational story gatherer and writes case studies that explore the processes at the self, interpersonal and system levels. Some of the cases authored by him have been published in Asian Business Case Center, GVV – Babsons college, and Ivey Case publishing.

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  • Lexi Wright

    Lexi Wright is an Associate for the Network for Business Sustainability and Centre for Building Sustainable Value. At NBS, Lexi's focus is on web management, event planning, and network coordination. She is passionate about bringing sustainability to the center of business education in the near future.

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