Developing partnerships with local business networks is an important way for schools to progress with their sustainability goals. ESPAE-ESPOL in Ecuador has developed over the past seven years a successful and ongoing partnership with local sustainability-focused business network CEMDES, the Ecuadorian chapter of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) made up of the leading companies in Ecuador working on sustainability topics.
I recently had the chance to speak with Virginia Lasio, the Director at ESPAE as well as Ines Manzano, President of CEMDES Board, and Jimmy Andrade, CEMDES Executive Director who shared their experiences working together.
What is happening in Ecuador in the area of responsible leadership?
There is no clarity on the concept of sustainability in Ecuador, and consequently, its applications are diverse here. It is often mistakenly associated only with environmental and/or social issues, while the economic growth and strategic development of business in our country lacks a vision of sustainability.
The National Institute for Statistics and Census (INEC) reports about 78% companies are non-compliant on local environmental standards. However, every day there is more awareness of the sustainability strategies and actions of international companies that act as role models to us. This is precisely one of the challenges of CEMDES, the Ecuadorian Chapter of WBCSD: to invite firms to abandon “the business as usual.” In achieving this goal, the role of academia is critical in helping to disseminate concepts, strategies, sustainability models, best practice cases, etc.
What are some of the leading companies in this area and why are they interesting?
Several Ecuadorian firms are advancing sustainability plans and projects at diverse stages of development. Pronaca, a leading Ecuadorian and export company in the agrifood industry has led a successful project to increase corn production by small farmers from 3 tons per hectare to 6.5 ton/ha on average, with some farmers reaching 11 tons/ha. The project has had a significant impact on the lives of the 1042 farms involved in the project, 64% of which were small farmers with less than 10 hectares of land.
Other companies of interest include San Carlos and Valdez (sugar mills), Ecuasal and La Fabril (edible oil, palm plantations, and biofuel projects), as well as Industrias Lacteas Toni, Holcim Ecuador and Syngenta.
What is the Cooperation Agreement you have with CEMDES?
ESPAE first signed the Cooperation Agreement in 2009. At the time we were relatively recent signatories of PRME and looking at ways to integrate the principles into our programmes and curriculum. Since it was not possible to introduce new courses or make major changes to the curriculum at the time, we decided to work in collaboration with CEMDES. The initial objective was to develop a Breakfast Seminar series on Sustainable Business Development that addressed mostly environmental issues, which the school does not currently include in its MBA programmes. The Breakfast Seminars are intended to engage faculty, students, and alumni—from across the University and not just the business school—as well as the business community. These events have been going regularly since then and 2015 marks our 7th year. Some of the most popular themes of our seminars recently, have been our sessions on inclusive economy as well as sustainable value chains and carbon footprints.
What kinds of lessons have you learnt through this partnership?
I believe that this joint activity in particular showed us that to take certain initiatives business looks for role models, and they are willing to learn from their peers. The cases presented at the Breakfast Series allow that interaction, discussion and learning. In addition, as a school we realised the importance of business/firms collaboration in the fulfillment of the PRME principles. We have learnt a lot from CEMDES and its members, which is helping us integrate PRME more across the school.
Beyond the Breakfast Series, are there any additional links/partnerships that have been created because of this partnership?
Our cooperation agreement with CEMDES goes beyond organising the Breakfast Series, to developing activities of mutual benefit. We are now also members of CEMDES and I am a member of the CEMDES Board, which has been a great learning opportunity for both institutions.
Through our relationship with CEMDES we have been able to invite key speakers into the classroom. We collaborate on a series of three annual conferences facilitating the exchange of learning from good practices in sustainability, and we receive funding for events from past participants and business attendees of our joint events.
What is next for this partnership?
We have several new projects underway. We have developed a new Master’s in Sustainable Agribusiness, which was definitely influenced by this partnership. We are also currently working on an executive programme on sustainable value chains in collaboration with CEMDES. We are also planning on running a self-assessment on social responsibility practices with CEMDES to receive specialised advice for improvements.
What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place?
Local business networks focused on sustainability are the perfect partner to develop initiatives in the PRME framework and strengthen links among business schools and firms. For us this has been a great learning experience.