Responsible Leadership in China: 5 questions for Eric Seidner, MBA 2010, and Director of the Being Globally Responsible Conference, CEIBS, China

What is the Being Globally Responsible Conference, and why do you feel it is important?

The Being Globally Responsible Conference is an annual, 2-day event organised by students at China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) in Shanghai, China. The event was started in 2006 by students and was such a big success that it became an annual event.  2011 marked the 6th year this event has been taking place and it is now the largest MBA student-led CSR conference in Asia-Pacific. The event aims to raise awareness about CSR among MBA students, help students learn about career options in this area, and provide networking platform between students and corporations.

Generally speaking, these conferences help to sustain an important dialogue about ethics and responsible business practices among members of the business community. It is with MBA students, however, and particularly with those studying in environments where there is a rapid acceleration of growth like we see in China, that I believe they have particular importance. MBAs are not green behind the ears; they have business experience, but they are still impressionable. To have conferences of this type at this stage in their career demonstrates that it need not always be “business as usual,” and that the responsibility to affect change really does rest in their hands.  In many cases, they also help to demonstrate that sustainable/responsible practices are not mutually exclusive from profitable ones.

2.     How is sustainability viewed in China by students? The business sector?

China’s growth and development over the last few decades has been astounding. But this rapid development comes at a cost: the depletion and pollution of resources.  For China, sustainability is not a buzzword or a utopian concept, it is necessary for survival.  China is heading towards many choke points in resources (e.g. fresh water supplies) and a potential crisis in health costs from rampant pollution.  The seriousness of these issues has been reflected in the country’s latest five-year plan, which enumerated very ambitious sustainability goals.  In the business community, there is often a sharp focus on short-term profit but a rather myopic view of long-term consequences. Surrounded by this, Chinese MBAs need to hear alternative views so that they can question and challenge the business status quo.

Because China is newly wealthy, there is a tendency to enjoy “having” after so long of “having not”.  Chinese have many new options, opportunities and life styles to explore and are eager to do so. A lot of emphasis is placed on earning money and enjoying the material world that did not exist a decade ago in China. Sustainability is often back-seated to business concepts (e.g. finance) that demonstrate a clearer path to wealth.  It is therefore critical to demonstrate that sustainable practices have real results for bottom lines if implemented properly. Fortunately, there are a growing number of Chinese businesses looking at these issues.

3.     How many students attended the last event? Did they feel it was a success?

The conference is very successful, and every year more students attend.  Students came from over 19 business schools across China and a long list of international schools, as well as representatives from business, not-for-profit organisations and academia. We had speakers from multiple countries, business fields and with very differing perspectives and insights on the topic.  Furthermore, we had speeches, panels, workshops, activities and even a marketplace. In short, we felt we offered a very well rounded and impactful line-up at the BGRC. I’m looking forward to the 2012 edition!

4.     What have been some of your favourite moments from the event?

This year we had an incredible list of speakers, including Ning Li, the founder and Chairman of LI-NING (sporting equipment), Casey Wilson, the founder of Wokai (a Chinese version of Kiva), Bo Wen, an environmental activist and Time Magazine Eco Hero, as well as representatives from national and international businesses across China. Besides meeting my childhood martial arts hero, Jet Li, Chairman of One Foundation Philanthropy Research Institute, I was really pleased with the large turnout and the feedback I received from both presenters and attendees.  It is important that these events have a networking component that helps connect members of this community.

5. Are students at CEIBS very active in sustainability? What else are you up to?

CEIBS is very active in this regard.  We have modules on responsible leadership, ethics and corporate governance.  We also have a two semester-long responsible leadership project that requires student teams to work on sustainability projects with local and international companies. To demonstrate that CEIBS walks the talk, it is also the first carbon neutral business school in Asia, which is an initiative that grew out of a responsible leadership project and was then carried forth by myself and two other teammates.  We launched several energy reduction campaigns on campus, planted a forest of 1000 trees in Inner Mongolia and eventually offset the school’s carbon emissions. There is now a large team of about 10-14 students, known as the Decarbonators, dedicated to furthering’ sustainability efforts at CEIBS.

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