Describe the initiative’s framework.
The initiative has three pillars, that ideally we’d like to engage with in a synergistic way. The first one is all around student learning, both in terms of curriculum offerings and experiential learning, which is especially crucial for sustainability. A lot of these students, when they are looking for jobs, want to signal that they have experience in the sustainability space.
The second pillar is around partnership. We have about more than 12 or 15 faculty members across all business functional areas working on the cutting edge of research and sustainability. A lot of us work on research to inform practice, and we’re looking at the cutting-edge problems companies are facing. So, the initiative will focus on disseminating that sort of thought leadership of not just faculty, but also of our alumni, and bridging the gap between practice, policy and academia.
And then the third pillar, which is the most exciting piece, and the piece that we need to build around the next couple of years, is around convening. For example, a company in the food and agriculture space talks to other companies in that space through different trade routes and industries, but they don’t necessarily talk to companies that are maybe in electronics or another sector, even though a lot of the sustainability problems they’re facing are quite similar. When you’re thinking about sustainable supply chains and sourcing, you can actually learn a lot from each other. So, when we talk to these different industries, we link the academics of Georgetown to all these other connections that we can bring together.
And, the last thing is, McDonough is an incredible organization with a lot of things happening. We have the Center for Financial Markets and Policy that will collaborate with us on ESG finance and sustainable investing. The Center for Business and Public Policy will have natural overlaps as well. So the initiative will play a coordinating role in finding these kinds of areas of overlap in activities around sustainability.
What are you hoping to achieve through the initiative? How will you measure success?
One of the short-term successes for me is: Are students getting the right skills for them to be able to be employable and do organizations believe they have the skills to handle their sustainability challenges? We’re already doing that with these courses and the certificates.
Another short-term goal is to have access to organizations and alumni working in this space so students are able to network with them through experiential learning. And, to me, the biggest measure of success is when I see my students out there working for the companies and doing cool sustainability work and making the business case for sustainability. That sort of scale and reach is just unsurpassed compared to anything else that you could do.
I think the other measure of success is one around community outreach. When we have enough of these convening events that we’re able to play that role of bringing together top leadership and practice. At the end of the day, the big measure for me is impacting practice and disseminating knowledge. That happens through our students, that happens through our research, and it happens through our faculty and alumni communication.
How unique do you believe this kind of initiative is for business schools?
There might be schools who are more engineering focused, or maybe connected to like the startup world and things like that. But what’s unique about what we’re doing at Georgetown and sustainability is that we are one of the very few places that occupies the nexus of business policy and society. So that is a very unique position that Georgetown occupies and also part of our global perspective in everything we do.
I firmly believe that we need to be at that nexus and integrate all three of those perspectives. Being in D.C., being at Georgetown, is unique in that we are one of the very few places – not just business schools, but universities – to have those kinds of strengths which you need to make it sustainable.
Are there opportunities for undergraduate business students to be involved in this initiative as well?
Yes. We just recently launched a new program for undergraduate students called the Sustainable Business Fellows, and I’ve just admitted the first class of 44 students. This one is sort of fascinating because it’s open to business students but also to non business school students, so they can all take different courses across campus. It will allow for more interdisciplinary intermingling of different perspectives.
So what is next for the initiative?
One of the other pieces we’re really working on is building our community of alumni who are working in this space. We’re really trying to over this next year figure out who are alumni of working in sustainability and connecting back and collaborating with them in different ways. I think this goes back to sort of why we launched this initiative, and I think this is our time to sort of scale up. Our big goal is to continue to do everything we are doing, but at a higher scale and with a bigger impact.