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UN PRME Global Forum Wraps Up – but Where Are Top Tier Business Schools?

“In the past business schools have been too concerned about being the best in the world. Now they need to aspire to be the best for the world” (statement from the Principles of Responsible Management Education’s Rio Declaration, one of the outcomes of the 3rd Global Forum). In this effort to re-orient business schools’ curricula, the Principles of Responsible Management Education (PRME), an academically-minded offshoot of the UN Global Compact created in 2007, holds a Global Forum every two years. Before 2007, management education was a critically missing piece in conversations about sustainable and socially responsible business practices. Since then, PRME has been a platform for academic institutions to engage with each other and the private sector in order to advance the common agenda of fostering responsible business practices.

Business Schools Not Ready for Prime Time

Not Ready for Prime Time. Sustainability education in business schools is not ready for prime time. For two days, university faculty, eco-conscientious business executives and NGOs from around the world rubbed elbows at the posh Windsor Park Hotel in Rio de Janeiro and mulled over the problem of introducing environmental and social sustainability education into the curricula of business schools worldwide.  The UN’s third Global Forum for Responsible Management Education (PRME) coincided with the larger Rio+20 Summit preparations happening at RioCentro on the other side of town.  During the event, organizers and participants acknowledged that corporations are already taking a leadership role in the field of sustainability and that business schools have been too slow to adapt to this change.  Over the course of the event, no consensus among the participants emerged as to why management education programs are not embracing sustainability education.  The event seemed to be a confused, albeit well-intentioned call to action, ending in the inspiring but non sequitur launch of he “50+20 Management Education for the World” side-project with its own emotionally evocative call to action. 50+20

The aggressively creative and amorphous 50+20 was billed as a collaborative initiative between GRLI, WBSCSB and RRME.  John Cimino, one of the principle founders of 50+20 and a professional opera performer, sang an operatic rendition of Robert William Service’s “The Call” at the start of the group’s launch.  Cimino, who is also CEO of Creative Leaps Inc, a consulting company that trains business leaders and politicians in deeply divided places, stressed that the group’s primary objective was to “broaden the scope of what management education really means.”  Cimino and 50+20 plan to use creative and performing arts to “promote learning as a transformative experience…to nurture the leader in the human being and the human being in the leader.”  While PRME and the UN’s Global Compact have produced documents and mission statements with “many virtures,” Cimino says that 50+20 has a plan for action that is “bolder and goes farther.”  He sees the new group’s role as a “kick in the pants.”  This kick start is something the process sorely needs, but moving poetry and slickly edited launch videos may not be enough. Supply and Demand.

Are Academics Afraid of Action?

This post is in reflection of the first day of the UN PRME Global Forum. “I wonder if academics are afraid of action,” started Claus Pederson, Head of Sustainable Development of Novozyme, to a room filled with 300+ professors, deans and directors of business schools, and other academic participants. The relevancy and impact of business schools is an issue that has recently received much attention and criticism. This comes up in issues of research, curriculum, and responsibility, just to name a few. Are academics really afraid of action, and is it necessarily a bad thing? What does this imply for sustainable development?

Another Brick in the Wall – The Transformation of Management Education

In 1979, Pink Floyd’s epic rock anthem, “Another Brick in The Wall” prompted many discussions about the state of primary and secondary education.  Similarly a transformation in management education today, which brings sustainability into full focus, is the subject of intense scrutiny.  I had the opportunity to sit down with Professor Thomas Dyllick from the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland, the premier management school of the German speaking world, to talk about the state of sustainability in management education – listen to the podcast at the bottom of the post. Ups and downs in the sustainability agenda

As the engines of economic growth, private sector businesses play a central role in sustainable development.  Whether one sees them as part of the problem or as part of the solution, businesses are central to sustainability and sustainability is an unavoidable facet of the new, emerging global economy.  Business schools must therefore seriously consider how the concept of sustainable development is taught.  Despite some praiseworthy efforts, there is still a need to fully establish sustainability as a central topic in management education. To say that nothing has been done would be cynical understatement.  In the late 80’s, a few years after Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters and David Gilmour crooned about students transformed into bricks of conformity, groundbreaking initiatives began reshaping the relationship between business, environment and society.  The economy is characterized by upturns and downturns and the same is true with regard to interest in sustainability at business schools.  During the dot-com bubble, in the 1990’s for example, the topic receded into the background. Today, however, the sustainability movement is gathering momentum again.