By Ian Fenwick
Ian Fenwick is Director of Sasin School of Management, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok. Follow Sasin on FB or on Linkedin.
I’ve been asked to write this as a part of the ongoing GRLI conversation with Julia Christensen Hughes and Hanna-Leena Pesonen; perhaps some of our themes will be picked up at the upcoming Deans’ Cohort.
A long-time digital marketer, I was appointed as Director of Sasin in June 2019. At that time, viral was a way to describe a type of marketing often using catchy, humorous, videos. Clearly, times have changed. Like half of the world, I am in lockdown and catchy virus has a quite different — and only in the darkest way humorous — meaning.
Ever since its foundation — in a collaboration among Chulalongkorn University (Thailand’s premier institution of higher education), Wharton and Kellogg — Sasin School of Management has started its academic year in mid-April, right after Songkran (the water-throwing Thai New Year Festival).
This year, as a Covid-19 checking precaution, the government postponed Songkran and advised physical distancing, with face-to-face classes deferred until June at the earliest. As a result, at Sasin we decided to move our starting date for the Class of 2020 to August, providing breathing space and reassurance for all our stakeholders. This of course means rethinking all our module dates (we teach in 4-week modules), and rechecking with all our visiting faculty (we teach about 60% of our courses with visitors).
We recently adopted the summary positioning statement of ‘inspire.connect.transform for a better, smarter, sustainable world.’ Almost every word of that statement now has mutated its meanings! Inspire: literally to breath into… now carries more literal connotations! While connect has itself been transformed: almost overnight connections have become digital not physical! For me, this is a very positive move, ushering in online, blended, hybrid education with a promise to open up the market for skilling and reskilling to an extend never before possible. But it is indeed a transformation!
There are other less positive implications. Julia in her thoughtful piece, sees a “realization that we are all in this together”. Although the fact is definitely true — we are indeed all in this together — the realization seems to be moving in the opposite direction, with increasing assertions that we all in this apart! As seems the norm with every plague, blaming outsiders is best: raise the drawbridge! lower the portcullis! cut off the world! We’re all preppers now.
As nation states retreat into themselves, global supply chains collapse, the air clears… temporarily. But I cannot help expecting short-term survival, and quite possibly social unraveling, will outweigh long-term sustainability. The sustainable degrowth that Hanna floats, is attractive in concept, but will it feed my children or pay my rent?
I can also anticipate an imminent, further, erosion of privacy. As we must all agree, the ability to record, track and trace even fleeting meetings, and automatically inform all contacts in the case of an infection is the key to limiting viral spread. How can anyone oppose that? Yet of course this is a step onto a slippery slope. It is a rare government that ever relinquished the ability to monitor its citizens! It’s hard to get the toothpaste back into the tube: especially when (as seems very likely) the most citizen-controlling states turn out to be best also as virus-control.
I was taught never to waste a good crisis. We have been handed, globally, a disruptive event that forces a massive rethink of how things are done. We have been violently bounced out of business as usual — we have an opportunity to shape the emerging future in a more responsible way.
For Sasin School of Management, a crucial part of our focus is sustainability through entrepreneurial mindset — looking, as do entrepreneurs, at new ways to leverage available resources, to achieve levels of sustainability never seen before. This is the time to inspire our stakeholders during this difficult time; connect with our community in ways that have real impact; and radically transform our programs to meet the needs of our past, current, and future participants. Will business schools be up for the challenge? I look forward to an exploration of the possibilities together with you during the upcoming GRLI Deans & Directors Cohort.