Leadership, societal impact and re-imaging capitalism
The GRLI team and many of our partners and associates joined GRLI Strategic Partner EFMD and colleagues at this year’s EFMD Conference for Deans & Directors General, held online 3–5 February. The theme at this year’s Conference was “Finding Balance” and the discussion and support for global responsibility in management education featured throughout many of the informative sessions. In this post we wanted to share some highlights and perspectives on the proceedings.
The opening plenary, “Leading in a time of crisis,” was moderated by Martin Boehm, IE Business School Dean and Professor of Marketing at IE Business School, in conversation with Peter Tufano, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford Peter Moores Dean; and Paul Polman, IMAGINE Co-Founder and former CEO Unilever.
The wide-ranging discussion touched on the impact of COVID, lessons from history, trends in social impact awareness amongst business schools, and the ever present call for sustainability efforts to be fully integrated rather than bolted on to business and education. As a measure of the crisis we face, one attendee commented that the costs to combat and treat the spread of COVID-19 ($16 trillion by one estimate) overwhelm the estimates to develop renewable energy — a cognitive dissonance worth exploring further.
GRLI Executive Director John North raised the question of the need for systemic change in economic thinking and practice by referring to the “elephant in the room: striving for infinite economic growth on a finite planet” as a potential root issue to be explored and addressed. He went on to ask what role the collective Deans & Directors gathered at the Conference might play to shift our economic systems from a growth focus to a regenerative focus (e.g. restoration of natural environment, equitable distribution of income, etc.).
In his response, Polman noted that GDP’s purpose was to measure industrial output — without counting its externalities — and “should never be used to define economic success.” He suggested that a shift from growth to a regenerative future requires including environmental and social return on that part of the capital and a commitment to “change the definition of what success looks like.” He also indicated that leadership at the highest levels is needed, concluding, “Fortunately we now have world leaders in more places than we had before, who are willing to work on this and see what collectively can be done.”
A second session that caught our attention was a 4 February discussion of best practices for societal impact at business schools during the Covid-19 pandemic, moderated by Piet Naudé with Harivansh Chaturvedi, Delphine Manceau, and Vincent Mangematin.
One standout best practice came from GRLI Partner Maastricht University School of Business and Economics, whose cancelled case competition was recast as a Corona Crisis Case Competition to help seven local businesses.
We also learned that the recent BSIS-EFMD survey on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on Business Schools found that 38% deans reported an increase for their institution’s societal impact (CSR, etc.), whilst 20% reported a decrease, raising interesting questions about the focus areas for administrators.
The GRLI Partners were well represented in the societal impact discussions with contributions from Deans of Maastricht University School of Business and Economics, KEDGE Business School, ESSEC Business School, University of Stellenbosch School of Business, and ISCTE Business School.
Not surprisingly, one of the insights that emerged from the sessions is that the pandemic provided business and management schools with the opportunity to return to local relevance and impact, by acting as local anchors with global connections. As a break from the recent years’ focus on globalization and internationalization, the pandemic offers business schools an opportunity to re-assert their role in wellbeing, inclusivity, dealing with uncertainty, and relevance of locality. This session called to mind GRLI’s triple-focus on “I, We, All of Us” for Global Responsibility, and how it always must begin with care for the self and our immediate community.
The closing plenary session on Reimagining Capitalism, hosted by Rebecca Henderson, Harvard professor and author of the book Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire asked participants to wrestle with existential questions about our current growth-oriented economic system like, “What is broken, if anything, and why should business have a role in fixing it?” And then, by extension, the responsibility held by business educators to support necessary transformation towards a regenerative economy that works for everyone.
For those that missed the session, see Henderson’s TED talk: To save the climate, we have to reimagine capitalism | Rebecca Henderson
Our GRLI perspective is that future discussions around reimagining capitalism could explore and acknowledge the degrowth and planetary boundaries discourse. The implications for education would be the use of pedagogies that reach beyond the cognitive intellectual approach and strive to develop a whole-person human leader equipped with the required skills, competencies, and knowledge to “walk on the bridge as it is being built.”
As part of our ongoing, collective inquiry, this event always provides opportunities to ask where we can be doing more. With thanks to EFMD leadership, conference organizers, speakers, moderator Martin Boehm, and participants, we will continue to explore and address these questions in the GRLI Deans & Directors Cohort and through collaboration with our network partners. We are grateful to our EFMD colleagues for bringing our community together, and look forward to hopefully being together in Frankfurt next year.