A Students Initiated Consortium Engaging Refugees – Leeds School of Business

In 2015, 2,250 refugees and refugee eligible populations were resettled in Colorado with the majority coming from Burma, Bhutan, Somalia and Iraq. Colorado saw an additional 3,000 refugees arrive in 2016. This, as well as the Principles for Responsible Management Education Secretariats call to action to business schools and management-related Higher Education Institutions in response to the refugee crisis, prompted Colorado based Leeds School of Business in the USA to engage.

As we continue on with our special theme month focused on Diversity and Equality in Management Education, this week I spoke with Mark Meaney, Executive Director of the Center for Education on Social Responsibility at Leeds School of Business (and also a lead of the PRME North American Chapter) about their work in this area.

Why did Leeds answer the call?

At the Center for Education on Social Responsibility, we feel it is important that business schools assist in the integration of refugees into local economies. This makes sense both from the point of view of economic development and because it is the right thing to do. As to the former, studies have shown the extent to which refugees are entrepreneurial. As such, they contribute to economic development in local communities. As to the latter, Denver and Boulder are sanctuary cities with a commitment to maintaining an infrastructure that helps refugees in the integration into local communities.

How did Leeds respond?

Leeds answered the call because a group of students (CESR Fellows) wished to do something to address the global refugee crisis, to take action to try to diminish the suffering of people forced to flee conflict, and to work toward solutions for the widespread disruption.

I worked with the Fellows to assemble a consortium of stakeholders around the topic of refugee issues, including local, state and federal government officials, NGOs, business leaders from the Boulder/Denver business community, and regional business schools. Members of the consortium began to meet monthly in October of 2015. Over the course of several months, we reached consensus that the focus of our efforts in addressing refugee issues would be twofold: (1) to make connections among the various stakeholders in government, NGOs, businesses, and business schools in order to effect synergies in becoming more effective; and (2) to influence business schools in developing programming to meet the needs of refugees in assisting them in their integration into local economies. To these ends, we resolved to begin the process with a Regional Summit on Refugee Issues. We then continued to meet in planning the Summit.

What were the results of the Regional Summit on Refugee Issues?

On October 26th, experts from local, state and the federal government, NGOs, business leaders, and universities gathered at the University of Colorado at Boulder for the Regional Summit on Refugee Issues, to discuss the role of businesses and business  schools in integrating refugees into communities and local economies. By all accounts, the Summit was a smashing success.

The Summit succeeded in confirming the positive narrative that refugees do contribute to local economies. According to government officials and NGOs, studies demonstrate that refugees are much more likely to start new businesses that create wealth, employ local residents, and stimulate investment. Following upon this discussion, speakers and panelists also related that refugees also pay back their loans at higher rates than other disadvantaged populations.

CESR Fellows wanted to use the Summit to generate ideas about how stakeholders could work together to assist Colorado b-schools in assessing and meeting refugee higher education needs. We then reached consensus on how all stakeholders can partner with b-schools in mitigating the constraints that prevent refugees from integrating into local economies. We also accomplished precisely what we intended in joining federal, state and local government officials, leading NGOs, business leaders from the Denver/Boulder business community to work together with Colorado business schools.

What have been some of the challenges of engaging on these topics at Leeds? Successes?

As a result of the Summit, students and some faculty are now fully engaged in understanding the root causes of the refugee crisis. The challenge has been in engaging the administration and some faculty in embracing the HEI needs of refuges, and then in approving the development of programming to meet those needs.

Assembling the consortium is clearly one such success. Members have committed to continuing to work together to assist refugees in their integration into local economies. Another success is shown in relation to students from various regional b-schools who have fully committed to raising awareness of the plight of refugees among their peers. Effecting synergies among stakeholders who participated in the Summit must also count as a success. NGOs were able to place refugees as employees with employers who have a commitment to hire refugees, such as L&R Pallet and Knotty Tie. NGOs were also able to network with banks with a commitment to micro-finance and then help to secure loans for some of their refugee clients. Employers with an explicit policy to hire refugee are left feeling much more of a part of a larger community. They felt supported by other stakeholders. Finally, the Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management at the University of Denver has developed a program to assist refugees in learning the culinary skills needed to work in restaurants and hotels.

How can business schools help on refugee issues?

Do not try to do this on your own. Take the time to cultivate relationships in the community in building a consortium of relevant stakeholders who can support one another in a variety of ways. Business schools can help in three ways: (1) develop    programing to meet the education needs of refugees, particularly in area of entrepreneurship; (2) support research among faculty that focuses on the truth about the root causes of the refugee crisis and on the ways in which refugees contribute to economic growth in local economies; and (3) encourage service work that brings faculty and students together with refugee populations so that they can learn about the plight of refugees.

What’s next?

To build on the success of the pilot at the University of Denver in demonstrating how programming that addresses the HEI needs of refugee populations can be cost effective for other business schools in the region. To continue to galvanize support on the CU Boulder campus among administrators, faculty and students in support of refugees. The CESR Fellows have continued to build on the momentum of the Summit in reaching out across the CU campus in support of various refugee student groups to demonstrate solidarity.

For the month of June Primetime will be featuring examples around the Special Focus area Equality and Diversity (SDG 10). Click here to see the rest of the articles in that feature.

Integrating Sustainability into Core Courses – University of Fraser Valley

University of the Fraser Valley’s Faculty Training Workshop on PRME

University of the Fraser Valley in Canada, recently submitted their first Sharing Information on Progress Report. As a new Signatory, the University of the Fraser Valley has spent the past few years exploring how to embed the Six Principles of PRME into their curriculum and activities. They have been conducting regular faculty workshops to discuss opportunities to integrate PRME into curricular and extra curricular activities.

A common way of integrating the Principles is by creating new courses on the topic but the School of Business at the University of the Fraser Valley took a different approach. Associate Professor David Dobson has been exploring these issues for several years now and has integrated sustainability topics into his existing course Business Research Methods which is mandatory for all students.

I spoke with Frank Ulbrich, the Director of the UFV School of Business, and Associate Professor David Dobson who leads the student research project about this initiative.

Introduce your student research projects and the place they hold in the curriculum.

Within our program we have a mandatory Business Research Methods class where students complete a major research project to learn the process, methodology, and applicability of various business research problems. This class is placed in the program to ensure that our students have the skills to conduct thorough and critically developed research in their upper level classes and future careers. It was felt that this would be the perfect platform to introduce various topics of social and corporate responsibility for the students to research. Depending on the professor, research topics vary widely from year to year, but the majority of instructors instigate the study of PRME related topics.

Why was the topic of ‘Fair Trade Coffee’ chosen as one of the topics?

I had heard a lot of people talk about Fairtrade and organic foods within the Fraser Valley. And I thought since Fairtrade was actually an organization it would be interesting to have the students find out more about them, their cause and how customers react to their label. Additionally, I was unaware of any systemic research done on this specific topic and since it wouldn’t be a very complicated research topic for undergraduates to deal with, it aligned perfectly with my course.

What were some of the questions that students explored?

Within this particular semester all the students had the same basic research question, which was to find out what customers’ willingness to pay for Fairtrade Coffee was. However, within the separate teams, the groups developed additional research questions around this topic. Some of the questions that came out were: What are the barriers to purchasing Fairtrade? What are the perceptions existing among society about Fairtrade? And how should the companies selling ‘Coffee’ market Fairtrade coffee? As an instructor I am always pleasantly surprised at the diverse angles and lenses different student groups tackle a similar project with. I am constantly learning from my own students, which I love.

How did the students react to this project? What were some of the lessons? Impact?

Most students were unacquainted with the Fairtrade movement and to be honest probably thought studying coffee for a semester wasn’t going to be very interesting. I usually find that the social and corporate responsibility topics I choose, are initially received with chagrin. But as the weeks progress, combined with the nature of the course it ends up creating a lot of awareness and interest among the students. I would say that the take away impact varies among the classes. At a minimum they are now aware of Fairtrade, some will now choose a product with a Fairtrade label over one without if they are similar in price point, and at the other end of the scale there are those students who really become impassioned for the topic.

What have been some of the challenges? 

The biggest challenge in choosing a social or corporate responsibility topic to ask students to research, is taking into account the limited time frame, and sample sizes and populations. You need to remember that they are undergraduates being exposed to the research process for the first time, and that the class is really in place for them to learn about how to conduct research and not necessarily what are the results of their research. So you need to be able to give them an interesting topic that can be studied in around three months or less and take into account that because of this time based restriction, their sample sizes and diversity might be low. Additionally, this is a huge learning curve for the students. Not only is the topic of study a foreign subject, but the research process itself is all new to them.

Successes? 

I think the success of combining these types of topics into a research class, is that you are not only teaching them skills, but creating positive awareness. If you pick the right kind of topics, ones that are interesting and prevalent, the combination usually creates a buzz. It’s something that the student can take away and remember not just how to conduct solid research, but how to be a better-rounded and informed citizen.

Are other sustainability related topics explored in student projects?

I usually choose new research topics every time I teach the class, which keeps the marking interesting for me. Over the years my classes have studied topics from researching companies marketing practices for various products, to plastic dumping in the sea, and willingness to pay for and perception of various products like Fairtrade coffee, or Organic foods.

What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place?

Choosing research topics based on sustainability or social and corporate responsibility appears to be this big challenge for professors. But it is actually very easy to find interesting and contemporary topics that students can get on the bandwagon with. After you experience the first semester running a class with these topics, you will find that students are very receptive to do something different. Plus they will surprise you with the topics they come back with and trust me you will always be learning from them. I know that a lot of my colleagues are also including social and corporate responsibility into their classes, which is great as students are constantly engaging in positive material.

What’s next for the initiative?

Since this is an area of interest for me the foreseeable future is filled with my Business Research Methods classes being framed around these types of topics. I find it is easier for the students to relate to and conduct research that is somehow based on consumer behaviour and/or consumable goods. While I haven’t fully decided what my research questions will be for next year, I am leaning towards environmental framing for environmental products, or source credibility for these types of products.

What else is happening in this space at University of the Fraser Valley?

April 4, 2017 marked the 5th Annual School of Business Student Research Day. Students present their research to a panel of judges and field questions on academic rigor and research design. Topics are usually sparked from subjects taught in various classes that feature sustainability and or corporate responsibility. Presentations this year included titles such as, “Effects of Valence Framing on Eco-Friendly Seafood Purchase Decisions.”; “Green Trends Among Fortune 500 Companies”; and “Gender at University: Analysis of Gender Equality in Public Universities Across Canada”. We are proud to provide platforms and opportunities for our students to pursue their research interests further in their undergraduate degree. It is extremely gratifying to observe our students taking interest in topics that are related to social and corporate responsibility.

We also have a number of faculty workshops organized by the School of Business to discuss opportunities to integrate the PRME Initiative. This is a new initiative for us. As committed participants of PRME we are continually looking for ways to improve the learning environment for our students. These faculty workshops are wonderful collaborative spaces where as a department we can learn about new initiatives, and also take the time to cross reference with one another about what we have been finding successful in our classrooms. Faculty learning is just as much of a necessity as student learning. When we have informed and passionate professors, we create that knowledge and awareness on PRME related topics, which results in sparking initiatives within our student body.

For more about the University of the Fraser Valley read their latest Sharing Information on Progress Report.

2016 Good Practices in Responsible Management Education (Part 1)

It is once again it’s time for PRiMEtime’s year-end review. 2016 was another exciting year with a lot of innovative new initiatives and approaches at business schools around the world embedding responsible leadership and sustainability into their programmes. PRiMEtime provides an extensive and growing database of examples from schools around the world on how to embed sustainability, ethics and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into management education as well as tips on how to move forward.

This year, 60 new articles were posted featuring over 143 examples from more than 65 schools in 38 countries. In this 2-part year-end post we review the examples featured this year, organized roughly around the SDGs, and what we have to look forward to next year. (Click on the links to read the full article).

SDG1SDG2SDG3The Hong Kong Polytechnic University has developed an interdisciplinary collaboration between the Business School and the Department of Rehabilitation Sciences, call the Wellness Clinic. It provides preventive care programmes designed, promoted, administered and implemented by students. IEDC-Bled School of Management partnered with members of the UN Global Compact Local Slovenia to organize workshops around the theme of “Health promotion in the workplace as part of the corporate social responsibility and sustainable business development’.

For one week in March, EADA Business School’s campus transforms into a model refugee course where students taking the Managing Humanitarian Emergencies elective learn about the main components required to respond to humanitarian emergencies and extreme situations in general.

 

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La Trobe Business School (Australia), ISAE (Brazil), Audencia Nantes School of Management (France) and Hanken School of Economics (Finland) founded CR3+ Network, a new program that provides a supportive platform to build international collaboration and enables the four schools to work together to build capacity in responsible management education. In the USA, Western Michigan University (USA) partnered with Christ University in Bagalore in India to create an experiential experience to engage students in sustainability discussions in India. Reutlingen University in Germany shared their experiences with the Ethikum Certificate awarded to students who complete a number of special experiences and courses during their time at university. Hult International Business School shared their experiences integrating the SDGs into the core Business and Global Society course. Hult International Business School and Ashridge Business School also shared their experiences integrating the Sustainable Development Goals into their PRME Sharing Information on Progress Report. The University of St. Gallen and oikos work together to offer the PhD Fellowship Programme, a unique opportunity to support international PhD students writing their thesis on sustainability in economics or management.

PRiMEtime also explored a range of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) available on sustainability topics. These courses are free online and open to anyone with an interest in the topic. A series of posts provided an overview of the MOOCs available in the Spring (Part 1 and Part 2) and summer (Part 1 and Part 2).

 

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The American University of Beirut’s University for Senior Programme aims to redefine the role of older people in society by providing them opportunities to remain intellectually challenged and socially connected through a range of lectures, study groups, educational travel programmes, campus life and intergenerational activities. The American University of Beirut also paired up with Citi to provide crucial support and mentoring for female entrepreneurs in Lebanon and the MENA region with the goal of increasing their numbers significantly. Altis Postgraduate School of Business and Society in Italy introduced us to E4Impact, a special programme aimed at training a new class of African leaders who will be able to create jobs in the sustainability sector in their country.

 

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Ryerson University (Canada) designed a unique interdisciplinary programme that brings together faculty from all of the university’s six department called the Environmental Applied Science and Management (EnSciMan) with a focus on environmental management. In Italy, the University of Bologna’s Launch Pad aims to leverage the know-how of the hundreds of PhDs and post-docs studying at the university to facilitate its transformation into valuable products and services, many focused on social and environmental topics. PRiMEtime also looked at a range of global student networks engaged in sustainability that are active within and across business schools.

 

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Antwerp Management School’s ID@Work research programme aims to support organisations in attracting, developing and retaining employees with an intellectual disability. The Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience at the University of Wollongong is an educational programme that supports Indigenous students through high school and into university, employment or further education. Also in Australia, Deakin University has been exploring how to encourage and train more Indigenous Australians to become accountants (currently of the more than 180,000 Australian professional accounting body members, only 30 identify as Indigenous). The Northwest Aboriginal Canadians Entrepreneurs Programme at the University of Victoria Gustavson School of Business is a partnership between several organisations including regional and provision government to offer first class entrepreneurial learning to the Indigenous people of Northwest British Columbia with the aim to enhance the self sufficiency and full economic participation of Indigenous people

Sustainability Study Abroad Programme – Haworth College of Business

michiganThe Haworth College of Business is the first college at Western Michigan University to require all students to have a course in sustainability. Through the school’s sustainability faculty learning community, faculty share best practices and pedagogical techniques to faculty who don’t teach sustainability to ensure that all students are learning about these important topics.

The school also offers additional experiential experiences to engage students in these discussions, in particular focus on the Sustainable Development Goals. One example is their Sustainability Study Abroad Programme in partnership with Christ University in Bangalore India. I spoke with Timothy B. Palmer, Professor of Strategic Management and Director Center for Sustainable Business Practices at Western Michigan University about this initiative.

What is the Sustainability Study Abroad Programme?

One of my deepest convictions is that business should be used to make society and communities better. I have therefore designed this study abroad to show students the great potential they have to use their professional skills to solve both business and social challenges. The two-week trip is interdisciplinary. We integrate social work students with business students because both disciplines study sustainability’s social pillar, however they do this from different vantage points. Social work students have keen insights into social challenges while business students understand scalable business models that might be leveraged to address these challenges. Indeed, India’s recent “CSR Mandate” essentially requires cooperation between business and social work professionals. By bringing both groups of students together in India, the trip’s rich context provides opportunities for significant student development.

What are the key features of the programme and how does it work?

The aim of this study abroad is to expose students to opportunities firms have to not only achieve lower costs of business in India, but to improve peoples’ lives while there. India has two very different sides: unbridled growth and prosperity alongside poverty. Our trip exposes students to both these sides. We visit firms such as Dell, Infosys, Toyota, Himalaya Drug Company, and the ITC Gardenia Hotel, Asia’s only LEED platinum hotel. Through these visits we hear about their sustainability initiatives including CSR programs. We also visit NGOs and women’s self-help groups; those organizations providing direct services to many of India’s most marginalized populations.

What impact has the program had on the students? The community?

The study abroad provides students an opportunity to experience the cultural delights of India. Students work with culinary arts students and make a five course meal. They take a yoga class. They tour temples and botanical gardens. However, they also obtain first-hand experiences with struggles faced by India’s poor. While it’s hard to know the long term impacts of these experiences, we collect data one year following the trip. Students report that their experiences in India have had a significant impact on “having conversations with colleagues about business’ role in addressing social issues,” “defending populations that have far less than others,” and “taking on a work responsibility related to a social issue that I might otherwise not have done.” It’s certain that sitting with a women’s self-help group hearing about members’ hopes for their children, or meeting with an NGO working to ensure the safety of children who are vulnerable to trafficking, impacts how students think about both their citizenship responsibilities as well as the responsibilities of leading firms.

What have been some of the challenges? 

The primary challenge with a study abroad of this nature is ensuring you recruit students who are open to the experience. We’re not studying Shakespeare in England. Students are exposed to really tough challenges and it’s not for everyone. However, effective recruiting and doing your best to provide a realistic preview of the trip helps ensure students who are energized by a trip like this and are therefore most likely to get the most out of the unique experience.

Successes?

When recruiting students, I always talk in depth about our visit to a rural Indian village. Organizing a tour of India isn’t terribly difficult. However, getting access to residents of small villages just couldn’t happen without being part of the connections through a study abroad.

I vividly remember one meeting in a cinderblock community center. Twenty of my students were sitting on rugs eating lunch with eight women in the village’s self-help group. The conversation meandered from community investments made by the women to the mechanics of running such a group. However, at one point questioning moved to more personal matters. A student asked, “What are your hopes for your children?” One by one, the women talked about career aspirations for their kids. Several wanted their children to become engineers. Others hoped their kids would become medical doctors. Others, teachers. Sadly, none hoped they’d become a professor! However, I could see the lightbulbs go off in my students’ heads. While we are worlds away, figuratively and literally, parents worldwide have very similar aspirations for the next generation.

What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place?

I personally believe that having a partnership institution in the location of the study abroad is extremely helpful. One option is putting the trip together entirely on your own. However, the partnership I have with Christ University is indispensable. They organize all our site visits, line up transportation, identify restaurants, provide our housing, and organize cultural activities. I give them plenty of input on what has worked from previous trips and what has been less effective. Having them do the legwork frees me up to focus on my students’ learning.

What’s next for the initiative?

The first trip in 2014 integrated business students from Western Michigan University with social service-human development students from Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia. Future trips will cross-list the class at WMU as both a business class and a social work class co-led by faculty from each. Both disciples study CSR but from their own unique perspectives. Bringing students from both disciplines affords an opportunity to leverage learning for our students because they can learn from each other.

 

Universities Bringing the Business Community Together – Examples from Denmark, Iceland, Argentina, and USA

Business schools are creating and facilitating spaces where the business community and the academic community can come together to discuss current issues as well as potential solutions to these issues. These collaborative spaces, whether they explore sustainability and the SDGs more broadly or focus in on specific industries or topics, bring benefits not just to the university and its students and researchers, but to the business community as well.

Here are a few examples of collaborative projects from Denmark, Iceland, Argentina and the USA.

Denmark: The Public-Private platform at Copenhagen Business School takes place yearly. Through a combination of interdisciplinary research, teaching and public engagement the platform aims to help mobilise, foster and develop society wide solutions to pressing matters of public concern. The goal of the platform is to initiate dialogue across the traditional divides between public and private, thus facilitating the creation of novel forms of diagnosis and intervention. Business leaders, politicians, managers and academics come together to exchange views and discuss approaches to specific problems with the aim of initiating collaborative programmes and discreet projects to explore novel solutions to these issues. The platform is engaged in several strategic partnerships, including with the Danish Ministry of the Environment.

Argentina: IAE’s Institutional Development Department invited companies from industrial sectors in Argentina to come to their School to share experiences and reflect on how to improve these sectors, without a specific research agenda. This approach expanded the range of companies and institutions contacted, opening the School doors to those that were not necessarily interested in participating in a specific research plan. The result was a new concept of “collaborative forums”, where companies and institutions gather at the School to discuss different topics and share experiences, slowly nurturing their relationships and exploring collaboration paths.

USA: Glasgow Caledonian University New York’s Fair Fashion Centre focuses on the business case for sustainability in the fashion industry in particular and building collaborations with, and between, key players in this industry. Part of their work has a been a series of ‘Town Hall’ events called Fashion Sharing Progress. These events gather leaders from various industries and organisations to offer different perspectives on sustainable development and help identify new solutions for the fashion and retail industry and beyond. This brings together academics, professionals and industry experts to facilitate new learning, which combines profitability with ethical environmental and social considerations. Leading names in the industry have participating in these events including representatives from Nike, Patagonia, the International Labour Organization, and eco-luxe labels. Through these events, companies are sharing the work that they are doing in sustainability with a wider community. For example, Warby Parker is transforming the lives of people around the world unable to afford glasses with their buy-a-pair, give-a-pair model. Levi Stauss & Co disccuss their work around water efficiency and their Water<Less collection, a collection of jeans that use up to 96% less water to create.

Iceland: Some universities host collaborative centres. For example Festa, the Icelandic Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility, a non-profit organization founded by six Icelandic companies in 2011 is hosted by Reykjavik University. The mission of Festa is to be a knowledge center for CSR and promote the discussion on CSR in Iceland. In addition it supports companies in implementing CSR strategies and provides a network of companies who want to implement CSR, as well as cooperating with universities by promoting research and teaching of CSR. Founding companies are Rio Tinto Alcan, Íslandsbanki, Landsbankinn, Landsvirkjun, Síminn and Össur. New members include, ÁTVR, Ölgerðin brewery, Capacent, Arion Bank, Innovation Center Iceland, Reykjagarður, ISS Iceland, 112 Iceland and CCP games.

 

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Sustainable Business Examples from Around the World – Hong Kong, Kenya, and Canada

img_4721As businesses become more and more engaged in sustainability around the world, we are presented with an increasing range of examples of active companies. However, when I speak with students and faculty, they say that they often hear about the same examples from the same international companies over and over again.

In an attempt to share some new best practice examples, I asked a handful of faculty members from around the world about their favourite classroom examples of local companies that are actively involved in sustainability. Here are some examples from Kenya, Hong Kong, and Canada.

Jessica Vaghi, E4Impact Foundation, ALTIS Postgraduate School of Business and Society, Italy (examples from Kenya)

Continental Renewable Energy (Corec) is a Kenyan based company that recycles waste plastic into eco-friendly building material and sell the hardware to developers whose problem is high material cost by providing affordable and durable construction products. It prevented 700 tons of waste from landfills, made 26,000 posts and signed orders over 10.000 roofing tiles by customers across Kenya in 2 years of operations.

Stamp Investment is a Kenyan enterprise that distributes briquettes and multitasking fuel efficient stoves, which enables schools and households to have access to safe drinking water with a reduction of 75 % in water borne diseases. The business won the Grand Challenges Africa “pitching your innovation” competition in 2016 and has been national winner of the most innovative business idea during Enablis Chase bank, ILO business launch pad competition in 2011.

NUCAFE – National Union of Coffee Agribusiness and Farm Enterprises is a sustainable market-driven system of coffee farmer organisations empowered to increase their household incomes through enhanced entrepreneurship and innovation in 19 districts of Uganda. NUCAFE Contributed in influencing the development of a National Coffee Policy and to improve gender relations among coffee farming households and was nominated by AGRA best Africa farmer organisation of 2013 in income diversity category.

Click here for more information about E4Impact Foundation and their work in Kenya.

Pamsy Hui, Hong Kong Polytechnic University Faculty of Business, Hong Kong

It is often a misconception that interesting work in the field of sustainability can only be done by companies with a lot of resources.  In Hong Kong, many small and medium enterprises are doing very interesting things with limited resources.  For instance, Diving Adventure Ltd., a company providing training services and products related to scuba diving, has always put the environment in the forefront of its business decisions.  They regularly collaborate with NGOs, the government, and other organisations on environment protection initiatives (e.g., underwater cleansing activities, reef check).  What is impressive is that for such a small operation, they go far beyond just caring about environmental sustainability.  They are also committed to create employment opportunities to minority groups, released prisoners, and reformed drug users, to help integrate them into the society.  On the service side, they regularly provide training to underprivileged children and individuals with disabilities, providing a sense of inclusiveness for people who are often overlooked, if not discriminated, by the society.

Another example is Baby-Kingdom.com, a parental online forum for parents to share information and experiences related to bringing up children.  In addition to donating to NGOs, they help NGOs advertise on their forum, bringing awareness among their large number of users. They set up the Baby Kingdom Environmental Protection Education Fund in 2008 to support programmes in primary schools to educate school children on concepts such as greenhouse gas reduction and green diet.  Consistent with its family-friendly image, Baby-Kingdom.com started family-friendly practices well before they became a trend in large corporations.  The well-being of children is central to its human resource practices, and the company is often recognised for being a socially responsible employer.

A third example of a company doing interesting things related to sustainability is 4M Industrial Development Limited, a toy design company specialising in educational toys.  In designing their products, 4M consciously favors sustainable materials and supply chains with lower carbon footprints.  In addition, 4M partners with NGOs in multiple ways.  With the Spastics Association of Hong Kong, they adapt part of their manufacturing process to support the disabled.  It also works with different NGOs to promote their causes.  Many of 4M’s products have a green message behind them (e.g., Paper Recycling Kit, Trash Robot Kit).  For each box of the Clean Water Science Kit, for example, 4M donates a portion of its profits to NGOs to fund water-purifying projects in the third world.  Meanwhile, children buying the kit would get a message about the project in the box.

Click here to read about the Interdisciplinary Wellness Clinic at Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

Deborah De Lange, Ryerson University, Canada

Our Horizon is a national not-for-profit organization led by Robert Shirkey that works with governments to require climate change labels on gas pumps. The idea is a low-cost, globally scalable intervention to communicate the hidden costs of fossil fuels to end users and drive change upstream.

ZooShare is a biogas plant led by Daniel Bida that turns animal waste from the Toronto Zoo and food waste from grocery stores into fertilizer and renwable power for the Ontario grid. The process aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10,000 tonnes of C02 each year. The biogas plant is starting construction now and will be operational in the summer of 2017.

Purpose Capital is an impact advisory firm that mobilises all forms of capital – financial, physical, human and social – to accelerate social progress. Alex Kjorven is the Director of Corporate Development and is a graduate student in the EnSciMan programme at Ryerson.

Click here to learn more about the interdisciplinary EnSciMan programme at Ryerson University.

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Running a Successful Interdisciplinary Programme – Ryerson University

Since 2000, Ryerson University in Canada has been offering a unique interdisciplinary programme that brings together faculty from all of the university’s six departments. The Environmental Applied Science and Management (EnSciMan) Programme was a response to a clear societal need for graduates at the Master’s level with expertise in the core areas of practice in the Canadian environment industry. With a focus on applied research with immediate implications for practice, EnSciMan provides opportunities for students to bring together engineering, geography, public health, urban planning economics and other fields to create solutions to today and tomorrow’s challenges.

I spoke with Cory Searcy, Graduate Programme Director Environmental Applied Science and Management from Ryerson University about this programme.

Introduce the Environmental Applied Science and Management Programme and how it came about?

The EnSciMan Programme began offering its M.A.Sc. degree in 2000.  It was Ryerson’s first independent graduate programme. In the late 1990s faculty members in eight schools and departments (three engineering departments, chemistry and biology, geography, public health, urban and regional planning, and economics) collaborated in the initial development of the M.A.Sc. programme as a cooperative and multi-disciplinary degree.

The M.A.Sc. programme was developed to clearly link the environmental sciences and the management and decision-making disciplines in order to provide students the opportunity to integrate the two areas of study in the classroom and in their research. The emphasis was on applied research for resolving problems in environmental protection, conservation, and sustainable development. Much of the research conducted in the programme is intended to have immediate implications for practice

How has the programme grown over the years?

The initial planned intake was 12 full-time and 12 part-time students per year. In recent years, there has been a shift to more full-time M.A.Sc. students. The planned intake is now circa 20 full-time M.A.Sc. students per year. Several part-time students are also typically admitted.

The programme has continued to grow over time. The strengths exhibited by the faculty and students of the EnSciMan M.A.Sc. programme, through their published research and successful completion of degrees, were translated into the approval in 2008 of a Ph.D. programme in EnSciMan. The first cohort of doctoral students were admitted to the programme in the Fall 2009 semester. The planned intake was initially 5 full-time Ph.D. students per year but the target has typically been met or exceeded. The target now stands at 6 full-time Ph.D. students per year.

Since its founding, the EnSciMan programme has continued to foster research and training in the environmental sciences and in environmental management. The M.A.Sc. and Ph.D. students are now supported by over 85 faculty members at Ryerson University. EnSciMan is the only programme at Ryerson that includes faculty members from all six of the university’s faculties. The programme has been successful in preparing graduates for professional careers in the environment industry, as well as for doctoral studies.

How is the programme interdisciplinary?

The EnSciMan programme is designed to provide students with both breadth and depth of knowledge in both its programme fields (i.e., environmental science and policy and environmental management). This is done through, what the programme refers to as, its “T-shaped curriculum”.

The previous director of EnSciMan, Michal Bardecki, has discussed this concept in considerable detail. He explains that in many graduate programmes students acquire and graduate with highly specialised and deeply developed “I-shaped” expertise. However, in the 1990s an alternative model emerged recognising the value of those with “T-shaped” skills. Figuratively, the horizontal crossbar represents an ability to apply knowledge across disciplines and an understanding of fields outside one’s principal area of expertise, as well as complementary skills of communication, institutional knowledge, and the ability to solve problems collaboratively.

Recent research has continued to argue the case that the goal of shaping a T-shaped professional should guide programme development and delivery in a wide variety of discipline areas at universities. This can be particularly true of interdisciplinary programs which students’ strong foundation of specialised knowledge. For students seeking professional development, approaches such as these are often particularly attractive since they offer the promise of bridging to workforce relevance. There are manifest benefits to students as employers often seek those who can perform as “environmental integrators” (i.e., managing and coordinating projects, working in multidisciplinary teams and networking effectively). In addition, students possessing skills as both “specialists” and “generalists” may be better able to adapt to the inevitable fluctuations in the job market.

The EnSciMan programme possesses a T-shaped curriculum providing problem-solving and research depth in one area while explicitly incorporating overall breadth in the understanding of a range of other fields and developing complementary skills seen as valuable to students in the development of their careers.

What have been some of the challenges in creating an interdisciplinary programme such as this one?

Some of the key challenges in creating the program include:

  • Student funding: EnSciMan is a graduate program that does not have an undergraduate program directly associated with it. As a result, it can sometimes be difficult to secure Teaching Assistant (TA) positions for students. That said, many undergraduate programs from across the university have helped our students find TA positions.
  • Different academic cultures: EnSciMan includes over 85 faculty members from across the entire university. As a result, sometimes expectations for students (e.g., in the completion of their research) are different.
  • Seminar and office space: There is limited designated seminar and office space on campus for the interdisciplinary graduate students. Students and faculty are thus dispersed throughout the campus. This can create challenges in fostering a sense of belonging in the program.

What about some successes? 

There have been a number of successes. Two I would like to highlight are our graduate successes in securing employment in an environmentally-related area and our long history of successful co-supervision of graduate students. Over 90% of our graduates work in an environmentally-related field. The full details are available in the programme’s occasional paper (starting on page 21).

The co-supervision of graduate students has long been encouraged in the EnSciMan programme. This reflects the interdisciplinary nature of the programme and provides students with exposure to a variety of perspectives. As noted in our occasional paper, over 25% of M.A.Sc. students have been co-supervised. Many of these co-supervisions bridge departments and faculties. Examples include biology and public health, mechanical engineering and geography, biology and urban planning, and economics and occupational and public health. With over 85 faculty members in all six of Ryerson University’s faculties, it is anticipated that EnSciMan students will continue to enjoy opportunities to be co-supervised by faculty in a wide range of research areas in environmental science and environmental management.

What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place?

Establishing reasonably common expectations for students (in terms of both coursework and their research) is very important given the different academic cultures involved in the programme. We need to always make sure we are fair to all students, which can sometimes be a challenge given the very different backgrounds and needs they will bring to an interdisciplinary programme. One key challenge these types of programmes may have is that faculty members are often members of a “home” department. This can result in them being pulled in different directions. It is therefore particularly important to have a core of several faculty members who are deeply committed to the interdisciplinary programme. One challenge of these programmes is that they often belong to everyone and no one. Several faculty members need to be deeply committed to the programme to make sure the needed things actually get done. We’ve been lucky to have this, but sustaining this commitment over time is a challenge for any interdisciplinary programme.

What’s next for the initiative?

EnSciMan is a well-established programme, however, we continue to improve over time. Key areas of focus include working to address the challenges listed above. We also recently completed a curriculum review, which resulted in the addition of two new courses (on responding to climate change and business fundamentals for environmental professionals).

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