National, Regional and Global Collaborations for Sustainability – Universidad Externado de Colombia

We recently featured an article on the University Social Responsibility Indicator System, a series of indicators that allow business schools to identify, measure and track their performance in terms of sustainability. This project, which involved 28 different institutions from 7 countries, is just one of several innovative collaborative projects originating at Universidad Externado de Colombia. I spoke with Gustavo A. Yepes López about their collaborative process and the types of projects they are working on nationally, regionally and globally.

How are you working collaborative on a national level? 

We have always believed in teamwork at Externado de Colombia and that if we join forces, we will obtain better results. For that reason, since the Global Compact Network in Colombia was created, we have been working with them on a number of collaborative projects. This includes carrying out awareness activities and training, research and outreach publications and spaces to carry out joint activities.

In order to facilitate the development of joint activities, we have put in place a special working group made up of the 23 universities in Colombia that are signatories to PRME and the 54 businesses that are part of the Global Compact. Here we discuss topics of interest, plan events and develop new projects together. We meet four times a year and every year we commit to developing at least one research project, one training course or workshop and one awareness raising event. A few years ago we developed a training course for deans which motivated other PRME schools to get more involved in our working group.

What are some of the projects that you are working on at a regional level?

We carried out the First Latin American Study on the State of Business Practices Against Bribery (available only in Spanish) which was a joint effort of 11 universities from seven countries in the region (Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru), with the support of the Global Compact Colombia, the Colombian Institute of Technical Standards and Certification – ICONTEC. The Universities that were involved included EGADE of the Tecnológico de Monterrey of Mexico and the University of the Pacific, Peru, ESPAE – Graduate School of Management of Ecuador, Andrés Bello University of Chile, the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala, the Universidad de Belgrano and the National University of Villa María – UNVM in Argentina and the Autonomous University of Chihuahua, the Center for University Studies September 16 – CEU 16 and CETYS University of Mexico.

The study found that 95% of the regional sample perceived that bribery is carried out in their country. The sectors perceived to have the highest incidence of bribery were found to be construction (34%), public administration, defense and social security (20%) and mining (13%). Participants of the study also noted that it cost on average an additional 26.2% in secret payments to secure a contract or business.

This study also was not only important because of its findings. It was also an important opportunity to learn to collaborate as a team and today we continue to work together on joint academic publications around this research. We also hope to expand this study moving forwards and invite universities from other countries to join, so that as PRME, we can have a greater understanding of this phenomenon throughout the world.

We have work with several of the same schools on another joint publication called Sustainability in SMES in Latin America and the Caribbean. This is a study that presents the situation of SMEs in 10 countries of the region in terms of corporate sustainability. Again this was a partnership between ten universities of the region, led by the EGADE Business School of the Monterey Technological Institute in Mexico and the Faculty of Business Administration of the Universidad Externado de Colombia. Here at Externado we also have RED, a network aimed at SMEs focused on sustainability and run in collaboration with the Global Compact Network Colombia.

What about international partnerships?

Another project is BSIEM (Business with Social Impact in Emerging Markets) led by Jose Alexander Mosquera. Jose was running the Emerging Markets Initiative here at Externado and realized that it would be important to give students the opportunities to visit and learn from other emerging markets. This way they would have the chance to see and learn about diverse social and environmental issues in similar economies and use this as an opportunity to explore opportunities to transform social issues into successful business models. Jose connected with Norman de Paula Arruda Filho and Gustavo Loiola at ISAE in Brazil and then later Nirja Matto from SPJIRM in India. Together we began to design the programme which launched in 2018. Today we also have RANEP in Russia involved in the programme. The main purpose is to offer global learnings to inspire students and foster the mobility among participants. That´s why BSIEM does not charge any fee for the participation, students. We just ask that they cover their travel expenses. We are currently looking to expand this programme and looking for partners in Mexico and South Africa.

What have been some of the challenges of developing these kinds of collaborative, international partnerships and how have you approached these?  

This is a very good question. I think there are many challenges. First, this is not a priority job. We all have other commitments and duties, as well as a limited time. On the other hand, we also have different interests, ideas and preferences, so agreeing to carry out a project is not easy, and it is much more complicated to implement since it implies a lot of patience and follow-up. However, these challenges are more than compensated by the results obtained. These efforts create spaces of trust where it is easier to work every day. I am able to say with pride that in the Latin American region and the Caribbean we have a solid work group that is working better and better together every day.

Do you have any advice for other signatories who are looking to work collaboratively to explore new, innovative ideas as you have at Externado?  

We have gained so much from these partnerships including new points of view, networking and new and innovative solutions and learnings from different businesses involved from each country. The key to creative successful partnership is to have a clear vision and objectives and of course to have a common principles and values, after that create trust and work hard.  Look for institutions that have a similar philosophy and principles.

What’s next?

For the past 8 years, we have been inviting PRME schools to participate in the EMI Emerging Markets Initiative, where students from any part of the world can visit Colombia and be part of the transformation of small and medium-sized companies through one of our consulting projects: Transforming Small Business, CSR, Bop Challenge or Circular Business There is no cost for students or schools to participate.

We are looking for faculty from other countries to join our upcoming study on Bribery. If any school is interested in collaborating on this, or other projects, please contact me at


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