The year 2016 has been a big wake-up call for me, as I suspect it’s been for some of you, too. I’ve always believed globalization and technology are forces for good. But from the supporters of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders to Brexit and the crackdown in Turkey, lots of people are reacting to the frenetic pace of change and their feelings of loss of control by implicitly saying “Stop the world, I want to get off.”
I am not an economic determinist, but I do think much of this political populism has deep structural roots. Put simply, we are living in an era of low economic growth, and the benefits of the growth that is taking place aren’t spread very broadly. In an eye-catching headline, McKinsey estimates that about two-thirds of the people in the U.S. and the Western world have suffered from declining real incomes or saw no growth in the past decade. No wonder people are unhappy with their leaders.
But I’m also a realistic optimist. There is a path to stronger and more inclusive economic growth. And I believe business schools like Wharton have a critical role to play.
Job one is to increase growth. Wharton people know better than anyone how important finance is to matching money with opportunity, and that’s never been more true than in the burgeoning field of alternative investments. But innovation, entrepreneurship and technology are increasingly important to all we do. The Mack Institute is doing cutting-edge research on how to promote productive innovation in big and mature organizations, while Wharton Entrepreneurship’s principal objective is to develop entrepreneurial mind-sets and skills among our students.
Then comes the equally challenging task of making growth more inclusive. It’s no surprise that I believe education has a key role to play. I could not be prouder of the world-class education we provide all our degree students on campus. But the skills needed to thrive in the business world continue to change more rapidly than ever before. Just think of the skyrocketing demand for the new field of business analytics, which we incorporated into both the undergraduate and the MBA curricula last year.
That’s why Wharton’s Lifelong Learning initiative is so important, not only for our alumni but for all of those who want to invest in their continuous professional development, training and re-skilling. Wharton Executive Education adds value to nearly 10,000 executives who come to campus for short programs every year. Wharton Online can reach exponentially more people.
It’s easy for critics to point to business schools as part of the problem when it comes to the challenges we face. But I believe profoundly that schools like Wharton have a vital role to play in driving productive solutions. That’s why I come to work fired up every day, and that’s why I couldn’t be prouder to have you as such strong supporters of all that we do.
Geoffery Garrett is Dean and Reliance Professor of Management and Private Enterprise at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
Published as “Wharton’s Essential Role in Turbulent Global Times” in the Fall 2016 issue of Wharton Magazine.