Management Education and the Sustainable Development Goals

This past week the PRME Champions group met in New York City to discuss how to work collaboratively to develop and promote activities that will address shared barriers to making responsible management education a reality. These discussions happened in parallel, and were linked to the discussions happening at the same time in the UN headquarters around the post-2015 agenda and the development of the Sustainable Development Goals, and addressing the role of the business sector in helping to make those goals a reality.

As part of the Champion’s meeting, a panel discussion was prepared with a group of distinguished guests from the UN and the UN Global Compact to discuss the role that business schools can play in the post-2015 era—both as though leaders and educators for future managers, and the range of opportunities this will present.

Mr. David O’Connor, Chief of the Policy and Analysis Branch of the UN Division for Sustainable Development, stressed the need to create mindful managers who are able to identify and take advantage of the multiple opportunities that lie ahead, but also aware of the multiple responsibilities that they have towards stakeholders. Graduates must be able to work in a more complex business environment, much more complex than has ever existed before.

Mr. Christian Frutiger, Deputy Head of Global Public Affairs from Nestle, a Global Compact Lead company, talked about the importance of the work of the Global Compact. He expressed concern that many graduates are not aware of the Global Compact, the work it is doing, and the tools it has available to help business in driving sustainability. Students need to taught about the growing range of voluntary tools—that are increasingly seen as mandatory—and collaborative platforms for business, including but not limited to the Principles for Responsible Investment. He also talked about the power that companies such as Nestle can have in bringing about change. Nestle sells 1.2 billion products a day so they have many opportunities to engage and educate their consumers, and make a positive impact on the local communities in which they operate.

Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, Chairman of the Global Compact Foundation and Former Chairman of Anglo American and Royal Dutch Shell not only spoke on the panel, but also contributed his thoughts on PRME during roundtable discussions of the two-day meeting. He noted that specific countries will need different tools and assistance to help them achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and that business schools can provide research and context for these. He stressed the importance of preventing groupthink, of making sure that everyone buys into the values of the SDGs, and highlighted the need to teach students how to be better and more active listeners—particularly in local community contexts.

Ms. Huguette Labelle, Chair of Transparency International and Member of the Global Compact Board, spoke about the need for training future leaders focused not just on the short-term, but also on the long-term implications of actions. Business has a role and responsibility to contribute to the wealth and well-being of countries. Over 1 trillion in illicit money has left developing countries, more than all the overseas development assistance that they receive.   She spoke about the importance of looking at incentive structures when it comes to preventing this and other kinds of corruption, where often salaries are dependent on getting contracts at all costs.

The last speaker was Mr. Yilmaz Arguden, Chair of the Global Compact Local Network Advisory Group and Member of the Global Compact Board. He noted that if business schools continue to operate in the way that they do, not half of the schools present in the room will exist in 15 years. He felt that one of the most important ways that business schools could engage in the post-2015 agenda was through research—in particular in collaboration with Global Compact Companies—and suggested this short list of possible topics:

  • How to change the incentive systems in the world to align behavior to SDGs. (e.g. taxes, short and long term performance measures and performance)
  • The academic incentive system and how it, for example, rewards individuals who do new things, but not those who are working towards long-term impact in communities and projects.
  • Exploring new technologies and how to deploy them to improve stakeholder engagement.

He finished off noting that students need to be made aware of the long-term implications of their actions throughout their careers.

For more on the post-2015 agenda, and the most recent draft of the new Sustainable Development Goals click here.



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