How do we create an MBA that fully incorporates sustainability and responsible leadership into its programme? How do we embed sustainability across the curriculum? Do we completely change the way that the MBA is structured?
Over the upcoming year I will be providing a range of blogs that explore how different schools have approached this question and the kinds of answers they have proposed. Today we look at Audencia Nantes School of Management in France and their new MBA in Responsible Management. I recently had the chance to speak with Rhona Johnsen, director of Audencia MBA in Responsibile Management about this new programme.
1. Please introduce us to your new programme.
Audencia Nantes School of Management’s MBA is a triple-accredited (Equis, AACSB and AMBA) programme which has existed since 1984. This year we are redesigning it as an MBA in Responsible Management, a change which is designed to highlight the key role that the notion of responsibility has to play in business today and to reflect Audencia Nantes’ values. From September 2013, all core MBA courses will include themes linked to global responsibility, while certain electives will feature sustainability or responsible management dimensions. The idea of the new offer is to propose a generalist programme that prepares alumni for management in any sector, but which has an underlying theme of responsible action. In this way, the MBA in Responsible Management is designed to teach students to take a critical distance and to consider the implications of their decisions on not just their company but also on their workforce, their immediate surroundings and the world in general.
2. Why did you decide to put together this MBA?
The motivation for restructuring our MBA came from three sources: companies, students and the school itself. In 2004, Audencia Nantes became the first French business school to sign the United Nations’ Global Compact, which asks companies to embrace universal principles and, in doing so, respect staff, the planet and society as a whole. The school’s Institute for Global Responsibility and Entrepreneurship reinforces this key aspect of Audencia Nantes’ identity.
At the same time, companies asking Audencia MBA students to carry out projects for them were increasingly requiring analysis of aspects of responsibility within their organisation. Students too were expressing more interest in these sorts of questions and displayed a heightened awareness of the issues.
The aim of the programme is therefore to prove that businesses can be both profitable and sustainable. Its motto is “training leaders for change.”
3. Why Nantes? Why is Nantes/France an interesting place in terms of sustainability?
Nantes regularly comes out top in surveys of the cities with France’s best quality of life. Much of this is due to the wealth of green spaces, the effective public transport system (tram and bus) and the ever-increasing network of cycle paths. These efforts, and others in terms of sustainability such as widespread household recycling, cheap electric car rental and a system of city bikes to rent by the hour, have all contributed to Nantes being named Europe’s environmental capital for 2013.
4. What have been some of the challenges and how did you overcome these? What have been some of the successes?
It is always a challenge when you innovate. One of the major hurdles has been the amount of time and energy that has to be spent on creating a programme while still delivering basic functions. It takes a lot of organisation and hard work to pull it off.
Another challenge is engaging faculty, potential students and companies and developing partnerships to underpin the new programme. It has been important to emphasize at each stage of development that the MBA in Responsible Management is not a specialised programme that trains students for sustainable development posts. It goes much further than that while still respecting its identity as a generalist course with international accreditations. The message that has to be communicated is that the revamped MBA prepares managers for any sector but arms them with the necessary critical distance and innovative profile that will allow them to be both responsible and ground-breaking once they are in-company.
The successes have been meeting these two challenges effectively. Firstly, despite the pressure, we are in the process of overhauling the whole programme to market a new-look MBA. It is far from easy to do this and to continue the day-top-day running of the programme, but we are succeeding. Secondly, the MBA’s very particular approach has been established and seems to be welcomed by students, academic partners and companies that recruit our MBA graduates.
5. What advice do you have for others looking to create new programmes such as this and what’s next for Audencia?
My advice would be not to be afraid to innovate, but to be very aware of the international standards that you must continue to meet if you wish your programme to be considered as a quality offering. While it is a fine balance, it is one that is possible to achieve.
There are many initiatives being followed at Audencia Nantes and in many cases they involve the notion of responsibility. However, what I personally focus on for the future is establishing this MBA as a reference. The idea is to not only make people think of our MBA when they think of responsible management, but also to make them more aware of the compatibility between responsibility, greater profitability and management so that companies integrate a wider notion of the effects of their actions.