Embedding responsible leadership into management education – Milpark Business School


Children and staff from SHH
Children and staff from SHH

Milpark Business School in South Africa believes that social responsibility is more than corporate social investment. It works to use the skills and knowledge of staff and students to develop an integrated approach to social responsibility that makes meaningful interventions into the local communities. In the past few years, the school has revised its MBA to integrate responsible leadership and sustainability topics. I recently spoke with Dr. Japie Heydenrych from the school about their efforts.

1. What is Milpark Business School’s approach to responsible leadership?

One of the effects of globalisation has been to challenge and reshape the relationship between business and society, introducing the idea that businesses have social responsibilities that go well beyond paying taxes and operating within the law. Consequently, the idea of the MBA’s responsiveness to business needs has been broadened to encompass the education and training of managers in issues such as social justice, sustainable economics, and citizenship. This introduces the opportunity for management education to contribute not only to the education of new managers but also to the shaping of society.

2. How has Milpark embedded responsible leadership into its curriculum?

In 2011, Milpark embarked on a project to revise its MBA and bring it in line with the voices commenting on the global financial crisis – the apparent lack of ethics and responsible leadership and the link of business with society and the environment.

The module that was developed as a result of the revision and its outcomes was Social Responsibility and Environmental Management. The purpose of this module is to empower students to understand the influence and impact of business enterprises and their responsibilities. The module examines the social, ethical and environmental issues faced by business and other kinds of organisations, providing students with a theoretically underpinned analytical perspective on CSR and the environment and enabling them to critically assess the relevant issues, initiatives, drivers, and responses.

3. What is the Milpark MBA Social Responsibility Challenge?

The MBA Social Responsibility Challenge was run in the second semester of 2012 for the first time in order to explore its viability. Feedback from students was very positive and the project was integrated on the Social Responsibility and Environmental Management. For the challenge, groups of students are required to identify a real charity or community improvement project. The objective is for students to get involved and to understand the needs of the community and the disadvantaged from a corporate perspective. They have to investigate the background and needs of the project and indicate why it needs support. Students then submit this information in a report for evaluation. Group members also have to answer questions from a panel related to the particular cause they chose to support. The winning and most deserving project is awarded a cash prize.

4.   What are some examples of the projects that have been undertaken?

The winning team of the challenge in the first semester of this year was a group of students who worked with Siyazigabisa Home of Hope (SHH). SHH was established in February 1997 by Gabisile Khoza and serves as a shelter for children and women who are victims of domestic violence. For the past three years, SHH has helped to reunite more than 30 children with their families and relatives. It currently takes care of and feeds 120 children and provides a permanent home to 17 children. The prize giving ceremony took place on 25 June 2013 and was an emotional and inspirational event. A cheque of R60,000 was handed over to SHH by Milpark on behalf of the winning team. The team identified the poor ablution facilities at the Home as the most deserving aspect and will ensure that these facilities be upgraded with the prize money.

5.   What advice do you have for other schools trying to embed sustainability?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said “action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.” The point of departure should be to make a conscious decision to accept responsibility, and then to make it manifest. This should be done firstly by visibly demonstrating to stakeholders that the school practices what it preaches. In other words, sustainability needs to permeate the thinking, reasoning and acting of the school’s faculty and administrative staff. Even in dedicated sustainability courses, many business academics merely pay “lip service” to this important endeavour. If business schools are to be successful in enhancing their students’ development of sustainable principles required for the 21st century, they will have to “walk the talk.” Second, curricula and syllabi should be subjected to critical review and sustainability incorporated in such a way that it spans across all study disciplines. Schools could do global benchmarking and best-practice research as part of the review process to further ensure relevance and pragmatism.

6. What’s next for Milpark Business School?

On 1 January 2013 Milpark implemented a revised curriculum in which a dedicated 25% of the curriculum focuses on society, the environment, ethics, governance, leadership, and change management without neglecting core management skills. Three new modules were implemented, including Social Responsibility and Environmental Management. The other two modules that relate to the responsibility theme are:

  • Business Ethics and Corporate Governance: This module exposes the student to perspectives and philosophies on moral ethics and ethics in business. The student will develop skills to identify and manage issues related to ethical practice and decision making, and will be exposed to the requirements and practice of good corporate governance.
  • Leadership and Change Management: Effective and exemplary leadership is essential in private, public and civil organisations. This module develops and refines the student’s knowledge and practice of leadership and change management in order to ensure responsible action and sustainable business. 

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