An Update from the PRME Anti-Poverty Working Group

Ending poverty in all its forms and dimensions by 2030 is at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals. It should, therefore, also be an integral part of how management education contributes to these as well. Within the PRME community, the Anti-Poverty Working Group, active since 2008, has been coordinating knowledge, initiatives, resources and research from universities around the globe working on a common theme – integrating poverty alleviation into the business education curriculum and research. But their mission goes beyond that. It is also about ensuring that management education understand why this is so important.

I recently spoke with Milenko Gudić, Al Rosenbloom, the Working Group co-chairs, and Carole Parkes (co Editor of WG publications), about the past, present and future of the working group along with a list of resources for signatories to use.

How did this working group come about and what is its aim?

The origins of the Working Group are in a presentation given at the 1st Global Forum for Responsible Management Education, December 2008, New York, which summarized the first CEEMAN global survey on the relationship between management education and poverty. Shortly after the presentation, it was suggested that a special Working Group on Poverty, a Challenge for Management Education, be established.  Since its formation at the end of 2008, the Working Group’s aim has been consistent: To introduce the issue of poverty into the curriculum and learning methods of business schools and programs globally.

Why should business schools take this topic seriously? Are they?

The short answer is that graduates must understand the role of the social environment in which business management operates. Poverty was often overlooked in such discussions.  But as issues of social responsibility and responsible management have become more deeply embedded in management education, so, too, has the importance of poverty alleviation discussions.  Schools committed to sustainable development and to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals know that poverty alleviation, SDG #1, is fundamental to achieving all of the SDGs. The SDGs give additional impetus for poverty alleviation discussions in all business programs.

The Working Group has sponsored two global surveys, which attempt to understand the extent to which poverty alleviation is being integrated into business school courses, programs, and curricula.  Between the first global survey (2012) and second global survey (2017), there was an increase in the acceptance of poverty as a legitimate management education topic. One finding stands out. In 2012, surveyed professors ranked poverty alleviation/income inequality as #13 out of 14 responsible management topics that MBA students had opportunities to study. By 2017, MBA students’ opportunity to study poverty alleviation/income inequality was ranked #10 out of 14 responsible management topics. We think this is a significant increase.

Britta Kronbach, our WG member and PhD candidate at Winchester University, UK, is using this Working Group research in her dissertation, which is investigating the extent to which schools of business and management engage with SDG1 (Poverty Alleviation) and SDG10 (Inequality).  Britta’s research will develop case studies around the drivers and constraints of integrating SDGs #1 and #10 into programs and curricula, which should provide further insight.

Since it is hard to separate Poverty from all of the other SDGs, how does the working group collaborate with other PRME working groups focused on other issues?

Yes, you are absolutely right. The complex nature of the SDGs and their interconnectedness and interdependence with poverty require a multidimensional and multidisciplinary approach. Consequently, the Working Group emphasizes cross-working group collaboration, through joint projects, mutual dialogue and learning, as well as information sharing and support.  Here are some examples:

Two important joint book projects have been done in collaboration with Gender Equality and Anti-corruption Working Groups.  The first project focused on integrating sustainability into business and managements education and resulted in the books, Beyond the Bottom Line: Integrating Sustainability into Business and Management Practice (2017), and Redefining Success: Integrating Sustainability  Management Education(2018). The second joint project produced,  Global Champions of Sustainable Development (2020), and Struggles and Successes in the Pursuit of Sustainable Development (in press, June 2020).

The Working Group supports regular Cross Working Group dialogue and problem-sharing sessions.  These sessions are lively, provocative, and stimulating, as they provide members from various working groups opportunities to identify new avenues and modalities for further collaboration. We also often represent other working groups at various international events.

What about your collaboration with PRME Regional Chapters and other stakeholders?

The importance of collaborating with PRME regional chapters cannot be overemphasized. It is absolutely essential for achieving a higher level of impact that the noble idea of responsible management education, including the advancement of the SDGs, is expected to create. In fact, the annual conference on Responsible Management Education Research (RMER) grew out of several conversations between the DACH Regional Chapter and the Anti-Poverty Working Group. Since 2014, the Working Group has participated as part of the conference organizing committee. At every conference we have had two tracks: One devoted to poverty alleviation research, the other on teaching innovations integrating poverty in classrooms and curricula. We also organize a successful roundtable on Shaping the Future of Responsible Management Education that includes major players in the landscape of responsible management education such as such as GRLI, ABIS, GBSN, ABIS, USDN, SDSN, RRBM, SULITES, as well as representatives of youth, will join again to discuss opportunities and proposals for Building RME Implementation Coalitions for Impact in the Decade of Action.We are proud that the Anti-Poverty Working Group members have hosted many of the past RMER Conferences. The 8th RMER conference will be hosted by our WG member in China, while our WG members from North America, India and Portugal have already expressed their interest in organizing these events in the years to come.

The Working Group has participated in two major projects with stakeholders outside the educational sector. First, we were represented in The Poverty Footprint – A People-Centered Approach to Assessing Business Impacts on Sustainable Development, a collective effort by UN Global Compact and Oxfam to produce an assessment tool that enables companies and civil society partners to understand corporate impacts on multi-dimensional poverty and help implement the SDGs. Second, we participate in the project initiated by Business Fights Poverty, which resulted with the report  The Role of Business in Education and Training for Sustainable Development.

The Working Group also receives numerous invitations to actively participate and present its work in a number of poverty and sustainability related events.

What about the Youth? They are the future.

Indeed, they are, and the Working Group has supported many activities to connect our work with the youth.  For example, in 2018, the WG sponsored the first global survey on Students Voices on the Issue of Poverty. We found that youth have high aspirations for a better world and that they expect that management education will give them the tools to be purposeful change agents in the world.  We also found that youth were well aware of the SDGs, but they wanted their business education to give them more in-depth knowledge and SDG-related experiences.  We participated in Challenge: Future 2014, which focused on youth-led innovations for poverty alleviation.  After the competition, the Working Group invited the challenge winners for a special joint session/roundtable with WG members as part of the 2014 PRME Global Summit held in Bled, Slovenia.

Since 2014, we have supported Working Group member Anastasiya Marcheva’s annual international student essay competitions focused on different sustainability issues, primarily those associated with the general theme of the respective annual Responsible Management Education Research Conferences. We also work together as a Working Group to support our members regularly for example in Brazil, Slovenia, Serbia and Spain to name but a few.

What are some of the resources that the Anti-Poverty Working Group has created for others in the network to use?

Other resources that can help faculty and administrators integrate the issue of poverty into management education and that also can spur creativity in doing so are these: 

What other current or upcoming publications feature research from this Working Group?

One activity that has been our focus over the past two years is the Anti-Poverty Toolkit.  Working Group member, Tay Keong Tan, recruited and supervised a team of students from his institution, Radford University, Virginia, USA, to create the Anti-Poverty Toolkit.  Through his leadership and expert knowledge, the student team developed an online platform that already has more than 500 artifacts related to poverty and its integration into management education.  This is the first, open source resource to be freely available to students and faculty on this topic.

Recently, the Working Group was involved with a special issue (July 2020) of the International Journal of Management Education (IJME) on Looking forward: Leadership Development & Responsible Management Education for advancing the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. The special issue consists of 21 papers and one comparative book review from authors located across the globe, including our Working Group members. We have also contributed a chapter on Poverty to The Sage Handbook of Responsible Management Learning and Education (co-edited by Carole Parkes), which covers a variety of responsible management, learning and education topics The Handbook is now available for preorder.

Do you have a wish list? If you had all the time and resources and support in the world, what would you love to see the Anti-Poverty Working Group do?

That’s a great question.  If we had all the time and resources needed to support the Anti-Poverty Working Group we would:

  • Make sure that every business program in the world has a curriculum or course of study that engaged students deeply with the issue of poverty and inequality
  • Award scholarships to students to support social innovation around poverty alleviation and the reduction of income inequality
  • Advocate for doctoral students to study poverty and income inequality
  • Develop a learning academy where faculty from around the world and from all business/management disciplines could come together to learn about poverty alleviation/income inequality and develop new innovative teaching strategies that resulted from their learning and collegial interactions
  • Create a peer reviewed journal that published only research and pedagogy articles on the sustainable development goals
  • Sponsor a yearly competition with a cash prize for the best doctoral research on poverty alleviation through business practice and for the best innovation in teaching pedagogy around poverty alleviation
  • Conduct longitudinal studies that followed graduates five, ten and fifteen years after graduation to determine the impact of their education on poverty alleviation in actual practice
  • Advocate for every disciplinary textbook to thread the SDGs throughout its chapters
  • Fund an annual “futures” conference that deals with the question: What will come after the SDGs and what will the role of business be in that post-SDG world?

How can one join and get more involved in the Working Group?

The Working Group Commitment Statement, presented at the 2015 PRME Global Forum (Towards “zero” poverty through understanding the root causes and action/ impact-oriented communication and collaboration),connects our long-term aspirations with the need to engage with other stakeholders in order to succeed.  Early on, the Working Group decided to publish a bi-monthly Update.  The update typically describes current and future Working Group projects, sessions, and events, calls for papers related to poverty, calls for chapter proposals that take a multi-disciplinary approach to poverty and/or the SDGs and news from our friends and partners.  The latter highlights various recent publications, partner projects and requests for participants on grants that speak to the wide range of issues poverty intersects with.  We welcome anyone who is interested to join the working group by emailing us. We really support a “horizontal,” grass-roots driven, collaboration that our Working Group has been advocating and promoting within PRME and beyond since we were formed in 2008.

The Anti-Poverty Working Group, a network of more than 200 members from over 170 institutions in more than 60 countries from over the world highly welcomes new members. Those who are interested are encouraged to contact WG Co-chairs: Milenko Gudić at: milenko.gudic@gmail.com,  Al Rosenbloom at: right2al@comcast.net and Carole Parkes at: carole.parkes@winchester.ac.uk.

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