Learnings from the 22 Feb RME Affinity Group Session at the 2021 AACSB Deans Conference
The largest global event for Deans, the 2021 AACSB Deans Conference theme of ‘Leading for Impact’ was notable both for the COVID-19 pandemic and AACSB’s July 2020 adoption of the new standard 9 for engagement and societal impact. The 22 February Responsible Management Education (RME) Affinity Group was a side event of the Conference and facilitated and hosted by GRLI Executive Director John North alongside RME Affinity Group Chair Cathy DuBois, Ph.D., Associate Dean for Graduate and Online Programs at Kent State University’s College of Business Administration.
The Affinity Group meeting kicked-off with perspectives from four global deans on the current trajectory for Responsible Management Education and an overview of the GRLI Deans & Directors Cohort peer-learning community, now entering its fourth year.
The four ‘conversation starter’ deans representing schools in France & South Africa, Finland, United Arab Emirates, and the United States were Dean Dayle Smith (Loyola Marymount University’s College of Business Administration), Dean Hanna-Leena Pesonen (Jyväskylä University), Dean Mark Smith (University of Stellenbosch & Grenoble EM), and Dean Dima Rachid Jamali (University of Sharjah). Following the opening conversation among these four, the session broke into two smaller sessions allowing all session attendees to add their perspectives on and experience of GRLI’s approach to inquiry-led peer-based learning.
We’re pleased to share highlights of the discussion below with reference to the main questions addressed in the meeting:
With reference to your current context and direction of travel, what are you learning (individually, institutionally, systemically) about progressing responsible management education?
Dima Rachid Jamali: In my context, I think there is an important role for business schools to connect the dots among key players in the Sustainability Ecosystem, including the private sector, governmental agencies, UN agencies and especially the youth through academic institutions. The Sustainability Agenda is by nature very broad and comprehensive, and hence the need for systemic and holistic efforts that bring together the key players in any particular ecosystem. We are particularly interested and keen to involve the youth and educate them on all aspects of responsible engagement, as future agents of change. We are keen to have future business leaders that are not only concerned about the economic impacts of their business ventures, but equally their social and environmental footprint in the world. This is exactly the sort of efforts that we are now championing through the College of Business Administration at the University of Sharjah.
Mark Smith: In advance of the session, and inspired this question, I was thinking about the need to identify a role for elite business schools and their impact on society. In particular the role of business schools as agents promoting inequalities or actively addressing inequalities in countries like France and South Africa (countries with inequalities, even if different). Secondly, I feel a pressing need to focus on the extent to which business schools can transform the lives of their students in the current climate but also transform themselves and be leaders for a better society (sustainability, equity, racial justice, etc.). Finally the impact of schools on their societies through their partnerships they have and choose to develop. These partnerships are testament to the school’s commitment and priorities but also their potential for impact.
Dayle Smith: LMU is the educational partner for Ascend Los Angeles where we are offering training for entrepreneurs (women and people of color) and business training to help small business owners create profitable businesses; incubate their ideas; and impact their own communities. LMU is also providing curricular grants to faculty who are doing mission related work and can integrate social justice into their courses. We also changed our curriculum to do a first year business school experience on ‘business for good’ as part of our mission related work in this space — students work on new business ideas from a ‘bottom up perspective’ learning how business models can have a triple bottom line orientation. Students engage with and partner with NGOs in this program and topics are integrated across the curriculum . Two of our majors now have tracks for ‘business for good/societal transformation’.
Hanna-Leena Pesonen: Responsible management education has clearly gained momentum: there is a lot of interest towards responsible management education and business schools are taking efforts to redesign their education. At the same time, a lot more could still be done, for example designing dedicated programmes and courses, incorporating sustainability aspects into all programmes and courses, or adding multidisciplinary content into business education to support deeper understanding of sustainability aspects in business.
Many business school leaders are now voicing a need for the business schools to rethink their purpose in the world and would like to see business schools and businesses as ‘force for good’. To be a ‘force for good’ requires serious questioning and redesigning business concepts and frameworks, such as sustainability of capitalism as an economic system, competition as the dominant driver, or the need and quality of growth which I have written about in an earlier GRLI blog.
All of the above will begin nurturing a new generation of business leaders prepared to deal with the challenges sustainability poses on businesses. This gives me reason for optimism that business schools and businesses will eventually be a ’force for good’ creating solutions to tackle sustainability challenges.
Collected insights and takeaways
Dean Jamali shared her key takeaway of the ongoing challenge of addressing all of the SDGs, particularly the goals focused on people, and not only the environmental SDGs, and to involve both young men and women in the sustainability agenda. One approach she offered is what she called that ‘Three I Framework’ of Inspiration, Institutionalization and Impact.
She noted that discussion in the breakout session covered disruptions caused by the COVID19 Crisis, and the need to pick up with vigour in order to make up for lost time in terms of making progress in relation to the UN 2030 agenda.
Dean Mark Smith noted three points he gleaned from the breakout discussion, starting with the need to pay attention to the social, demographic, and gender mix of those who are supporting responsibility and sustainability inside business schools — and how we engage all internal stakeholders. Two, the challenges of addressing all of the SDGs, particularly the people ones, and the possibilities offered by curricula reviews and allowing faculty to identify their own links. Finally, the challenges posed by COVID for advancing SDGs and responsibility and the importance for leaders to take advantage of inevitable post-pandemic strategic reviews.
From their breakout session, Dean Dayle Smith and Dean Pesonen raised the range of responses from faculty regarding RME and building/integration of SDG’s/PRME/GRLI concerns into our schools — from ‘advocate — to neutral — to resistance’. One should not assume total buy in and there is a need to work with a range of commitments to moving the needle.
As recommendations for ‘what works’, they remarked that a collaborative of ‘like minded’ deans (and communities) helps you move forward — such as the GRLI Deans Cohort, being a PRME Signatory, or the example of SUNY campuses coming together to do a conference around the curriculum.
Ideas for integrating the SDGs into teaching and learning include courses that address business’ role in the SDGs with speakers and community leaders. They noted the importance of going beyond ‘climate/planet’ and to see our work as another framework for introducing how we address issues like poverty through business leadership in growth and development. As well, job creation is an impactful way to induce change in many ways.
Being mission focused was also part of the discussion, to drive change and bring awareness and resources to the desired changes. This can be easier to integrate with a dedicated center.
Partnerships are key through national connections/affiliations and organizations as well as integrating across the university for more cross-curricular and interdisciplinary curricular innovation.
The GRLI, an EFMD, AACSB International and UN Global Compact strategic partnership, is committed to facilitating innovative, pioneering and action oriented peer-learning, hands-on collaboration, and partnership opportunities for senior leaders in the fields of management, higher education and organisational learning.
The GRLI Deans & Directors Cohort is a participant-driven co-learning and co-action opportunity that have engaged over 100 global deans and directors to date in advancing Global Responsibility in learning, leadership, and practice. Provisional Dates for 2021 include virtual meetings in March, June, and December, with an in-person 21–22 October Deans Cohort meeting hosted by George Mason University School of Business. An annual contribution of EUR 600 secures participation in the Cohort for the Dean / Director and up to three learning partners at the main gatherings. Apply online. Feel free to contact firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about Associating or Partnering with the GRLI. Cohort participation is free for GRLI Associates and Partners.
With additional thanks to Cathy DuBois for her role as RME Affinity Group Chair and AACSB’s president and CEO Caryn Beck-Dudley, John North shared, ‘In collaboration with our foundational strategic partner AACSB, we are keen to observe how ideas and inquiries that continue to emerge from the GRLI Deans & Directors Cohort grow into initiatives, yield impact beyond the cohort and help develop new insights into the development of global responsibility for lasting societal impact’.