International Business School Suzhou (IBSS) at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University in China strives to be a model business school for other Chinese business schools to learn from and achieve sustainable growth. Their research-led teaching is an integral factor behind the creation of global and sustainable graduates. Through their work internally, and influence externally with other business schools, NGOs, business and government, they aim to become PRME Champions within the next few years.
I spoke with the IBSS’s PRME team, including Xuanwei Cao, Xiaxia Xu, and Alexander Mackrell, with further support from their Dean, Professor Hossam Ismail, about their most recent Sharing Information on Progress (SIP) report (part 1), as well as how Chinese business schools are embedding responsible management into their curriculum, research and operations (part 2).
How did you go about putting together your report?
We approached the report as a three-month project, agreeing first and foremost that the report was to communicate our new mission, dedication to RME, and our goal of becoming a PRME champion. It was also felt that PRME would be an excellent opportunity to celebrate the contributions of staff and faculty in areas beyond research. During the planning stage we researched the previous reports of all the current champions to see where we could improve upon our last report, and what activities to look out for when gathering the data we required.
Our next step was to approach key faculty members known for their work in ERS across each of the RME Principles. Interviews with these “influencers” led to recommendations to approach others at IBSS on their ongoing projects, research, and excellence in teaching. Through our interviews and a staff survey we were able to gather perspectives from both our Chinese as well as international staff, then integrate these into a unified submission. Interviews and the collection of further data required were largely completed by our new accreditation and compliance team, formed to work on our commitments to AACSB, EQUIS and PRME, which we found are increasingly aligned with each other.
After two months gathering qualitative and quantitative data for the report we spent a further month putting everything together under each principle. Our first draft was then compared to our 2015 and 2017 reports to discern which of our previous commitments had been reached, which required more focus, and what new commitments we could aim to fulfil by 2021. After several further reviews and updates from our senior management team we were ready to submit the report.
What were some of the challenges and how did you overcome these?
The creation of this report was more of an exploratory journey than we had originally expected, with the greatest challenges for our team in information collection and analysis. While initially we were concerned that IBSS was not involved in enough ERS related activities, the key issue turned out to be communication. Through subsequent research we discovered a great many IBSS staff and students were involved in initiatives we were largely unaware of. While we have developed data collection systems to demonstrate the impact of existing projects in the future, such as ERS event feedback templates, we have decided to conduct a similar exploratory approach for our next report. This is due to the fact that the process itself has resulted in a number of internal opportunities for collaboration on ERS initiatives, such as the creation of an interdepartmental community of practice on sustainability in curriculum. The support provided by our Dean and management team on this process, overcoming obstacles, and projects we have started since submission, cannot be understated.
What were some of the successes?
Just being featured on this blog is a success! We believe the greatest success achieved through this project has been visibility. As mentioned above we are thrilled to have gained recognition as an organization, as this will allow us access to further partnerships and opportunities for dialogue. Our report has also allowed us to shed light on and celebrate the ERS activities going on at the individual and group levels at IBSS, activities such as our Mindfulness Institute for example. At the same time this report has allowed us to implement key changes at IBSS, such as the addition of an ERS award for staff as one of our yearly IBSS School Awards and creation of an IBSS ERS Committee.
How did you measure impact?
To be honest we did not measure impact well in this report, as our goal this year was to design for impact. We were looking to set in place a foundation (our 2019 report) and aspirational outcomes (PRME Champion reports) to allow us to demonstrate real impact in 2021. To do this we made sure that we not only have indicators for each of our 18 commitments that evidence change, but also that most are quantitatively assessable to show the level of change achieved.
What are a few of the initiatives/research you are working on that you are most proud of?
There are three main initiatives that we are currently very excited about. The first is the Mindful Institute. The ancient practice of mindfulness is central to the ability to slow down and “singletask”, to remain focused and stress free in a chaotic environment. IBSS star faculty Dr. Sunny Pan and Dr. Haifeng Fu are the driving forces behind the Mindfulness Institute, which aims to combine ongoing faculty and student research into mindfulness with sessions that enable IBSS students to perfect mindfulness practices. We are proud of this project because of the positive impact it is already having on our students, and the potential it has to have an impact on the wider business community as its scope expands in the future.
Second, we have just set up a university-wide Sustainability Community of Practice to foster interdepartmental collaboration on sustainability at XJTLU, consisting of departments ranging from environmental sciences to civil engineering. While the first task of this community is to find ways to enrich our curriculum and learning outcomes with more concepts and cases related to sustainability, we hope also to find ways to encourage events raising awareness on the SDGs for students and staff that span several departments rather that IBSS alone. Contact with other departments has already resulted in feedback on our 2019 report, our current favourite being “I read some promising things in the IBSS PRME Report, but also a lot of vague/marketing lines, which is perhaps inevitable in our current society.” This is exactly the sort of external feedback we need to create real change!
Third, we have also begun a partnership with Green Light Year, a Chinese NGO with a focus on sustainability and entrepreneurship. This year we completed our first pilot summer camp with Green Light Year, sponsoring three IBSS students to participate in a sustainable bamboo consulting project in Anji, Zhejiang. While this relationship is still in its infancy there is great promise for further collaboration on research, student internships, and training for students to enter global development organisations.
Any advice for other schools, in particular in China, working on their reports?
- The PRME Champions are a good place to start when planning your report and seeking to develop new commitments. Go further and seek the advice of universities like Tongji University and CEIBS in Shanghai that are famous for their work in ERS in China.
- Ensure there is support for PRME at the highest level of your institution, in addition to willingness to integrate RME values into your institution’s strategy.
- Map out your key internal and external stakeholders, those individuals and organisations you could partner with on ERS initiatives and spread awareness of PRME beyond your business school.
- Interview members of faculty and the student body to find out what is already being done in terms of ERS activities. Start with a good idea of what you have and build slowly, trying to instigate too much at once could lead to a collapse and negative attitude towards ERS in the future.
To read Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University’s latest SIP report click here.