One of the three main global accrediting agencies for business schools is issuing a challenge to its members — and to graduate business education as a whole, as well as the business community: Do more to make a positive impact on the world.
Call it sustainability or ESG (environmental, social and governance) or CSR (corporate social responsibility) or any number of other terms — but do more of it, says the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business in an open letter published June 23 “calling for systemic change through the expertise and action of global business leaders and business educators.”
“We must come together, focused on challenging the status quo and intent on designing the next approach to business leadership,” AACSB says in its open letter, calling for systemic change through action by global business leaders and business educators. “Complex global environmental and social issues can — and will — be solved when leaders from across sectors and around the world collaborate.”
‘SOME COMPANIES ARE WAY AHEAD OF OTHERS’
AACSB’s challenge notwithstanding, you don’t have to look far to find B-schools that have been making the “business for good” case for many years already. For the last decade, and particularly in the last five years, sustainability programming has exploded at the top B-schools in Europe and the United States. Schools from the mountains of Switzerland to the Bay Area of California and all points between are eager to promote them, reflecting, most importantly, the interests and motivations of their most important stakeholders: students. Meanwhile, new paradigms in assessing program value are changing the debate, including, in Europe, a “Positive Impact Rating” that judges schools based on their commitment to prioritizing the student experience and making positive change as a result.
Georgetown McDonough School of Business is one school that needs no prompting to take up the sustainability focus. On a recent visit to the U.S. West Coast to meet with alumni and leaders in the space, Prashant Malaviya, professor of marketing and senior associate dean of MBA programs at the McDonough School in Washington, D.C., says sustainability is an area of focus for the school now and for the foreseeable future.
“I represent the MBA program, and clearly we want to incorporate sustainability as a theme in our curriculum, in our core curriculum,” says Malaviya, who has been on the McDonough faculty since 2008. “But the school itself has taken the decision that we want to put some kind of a flag for ourselves in this space. The reason is not that difficult to imagine. Sustainability is a critical aspect of business now. All CEOs are talking about it, and it is also clear in talking to the senior leaders about sustainable business issues that they’re genuinely trying to learn. They’re trying to figure out, ‘How does this apply?'”
Malaviya points to a recent shift: sustainability in B-schools used to be about compliance issues, often part of the legal department, “and we just wanted to make sure we were not doing anything wrong.” he says while that was “a good starting point,” what is clear now is that sustainability and sustainable business practices “have tremendous opportunity for innovation and creating competitive advantages for businesses rather than making sure, ‘Let’s not break any laws.’
“I think that’s the opportunity that people see, and some companies are way ahead of others, others are just trying to figure it out.”
MANY REASONS WHY SUSTAINABILITY IS IMPORTANT
Some B-schools are way ahead of others, too. Georgetown McDonough is one of them. The school has a growing list of courses and degree programs focused on environmental sustainability in the context of business, from the Sustainable Business Fellows Program for undergraduates to the new M.S. in Environmental and Sustainability Management that will welcome its first students in August. Georgetown also offers an MBA Certificate in Sustainable Business.
Much of Georgetown’s recent activity in the sustainability space falls under the umbrella of its Business of Sustainability Initiative; in an interview with P&Q last October, Vishal Agrawal, academic director of the initiative, says the skyrocketing interest in sustainability from students and schools alike can be easily explained: It’s the right thing to do.
“There are many reasons why businesses should focus on sustainability or social responsibility,” Agrawal says. “The most obvious, and some of my colleagues will tell you this as well, is the ethical reason to do this. It’s the right thing to do. What I want to focus on, and what we’ve learned also resonates a lot with companies, is what I call the ‘business approach to sustainability’ or the ‘business case for sustainability.’
“What that means is that I’m not just going to tell you to do something which is good for the environment or society just because it’s the right thing to do. What I’m gonna do is to be able to help you identify how that can also be good for your business. It is generally much easier to get companies to do something about sustainability if it also aligns with their business model and understands the constraints of their business operations.”
‘CHANGING THE TRAJECTORY OF BUSINESS EDUCATION’
As a global network of more than 1,800 members in over 100 countries and territories, AACSB is better positioned to effect broad change than any single business school. In its open letter, the nonprofit called for changing “the trajectory of business education from a focus solely on profit to one on purpose and making a positive impact on society,” a process that begins with the work of the “AACSB Collective,” groups of accelerators with stakeholders from B-schools, businesses, nonprofits, government, and learners “focused on rapidly building the leadership framework that defines the knowledge, skills, and behaviors required to inspire change and make an impact.
“This work will lead to a new business philosophy and intellectual framework for leadership to guide business schools in developing educated, skilled, and empathetic leaders who can succeed within business models focused on sustainability and purpose.”
Georgetown’s Agrawal responded to AACSB’s call to arms:
“Georgetown McDonough,” he tells P&Q, “is focused on training the next generation of business leaders with the skills, knowledge, and abilities needed to address critical sustainability challenges and opportunities faced by their organizations. Through innovative work with the Business of Sustainability Initiative, we continue to foster new opportunities for student learning, thought leadership, and convening and outreach with experts in the field. Reaching across sectors to create positive societal impact is critical to our work in the sustainability initiative — our new collaborative M.S. in Environment and Sustainability Management degree leverages the university’s expertise in both environmental science and business to equip leaders with the knowledge, skills, and determination to advance sustainable business and environmental practices globally.
“This, in addition to the MBA Certificate on Sustainable Business, the Sustainable Fellows program, and Georgetown’s global reach and D.C. location, make us uniquely positioned to tackle the business case for sustainability.
“We look forward to reviewing the results of AACSB’s new accelerator as we continue this important work toward a more sustainable future, helping to drive positive change and create lasting impact in this field.”
See AACSB’s full letter below.
An Open Call to Action: How Business and Business Education Can Positively Impact Society
The responsibility of creating a positive societal impact isn’t owned by a single entity. There’s no isolated source of information, no one right answer. We’re all accountable for recognizing challenges and pursuing solutions that make the world a better place, especially in the context of developing our global leaders. We must come together, focused on challenging the status quo and intent on designing the next approach to business leadership.
Complex global environmental and social issues can—and will—be solved when leaders from across sectors and around the world collaborate, and AACSB is calling for systemic change through the expertise and action of global business leaders and business educators. As global organizations transition purely profit-driven business models to ones that support profit, purpose, people, and planet, the leadership skills required to succeed will need to be redefined. We must come together to develop leaders focused on creating positive societal impact in these new business models.
As the world’s largest association for business education, AACSB connects educators, businesses, nonprofits, government, and lifelong learners as a force for good in the world. Driving positive societal impact through its accreditation standards and global network of more than 1,800 members in over 100 countries and territories, AACSB, in collaboration with the world’s business leaders, changemakers, thought leaders and social entrepreneurs, can change the trajectory of business education from a focus solely on profit to one on purpose and making a positive impact on society.
This action begins with the work of the AACSB Collective, which includes groups of accelerators comprising stakeholders from diverse business schools, businesses, nonprofits, government, and learners focused on rapidly building the leadership framework that defines the knowledge, skills, and behaviors required to inspire change and make an impact.
This work will lead to a new business philosophy and intellectual framework for leadership to guide business schools in developing educated, skilled, and empathetic leaders who can succeed within business models focused on sustainability and purpose.
As a testament to the importance of this initiative, members of AACSB’s inaugural accelerator include leaders representing companies in all corners of industry including:
- Dr. Kristin Joys, Chair, Teaching & Curriculum Innovation, B Academics
- Olivia Scriven, Federal Disaster Recovery Officer, FEMA
- Michiel Bakker, Vice President, Global Workplace Programs, Google
- Steve Kappler, President, Enactus
- Erik Thrasher, VP Strategic Partnerships and Global Lead, DE&I in Education Publishing, Wiley
- Jan-Willem Vosmeer, Global Manager, Sustainable Development & Stakeholder Engagement, Heineken
- Austin Okere, Founder and Vice Chairman CWG Plc
- Katie Pedley, Director R&D Liaison, Global Higher Education, ETS
- Heather MacCleoud, Chief Network Officer, Ashoka U, Ashoka
The work of the first AACSB accelerator will be featured and explored at the AACSB Societal Impact Conference, held October 24-25, 2022, in New York City, where influential leaders will further define the framework for societal impact leaders as well as the partner alliances needed to train and prepare future leaders that will create positive societal change.
While our challenges may be great, our potential to solve them is even greater. AACSB is calling on global business and government leaders, business educators, and all those committed to positively impacting society to join the AACSB Collective and challenge how we develop global leaders, ultimately designing a new leadership framework for lasting positive societal impact. Learn more about how AACSB is leading this effort, and how you can get involved.