Insurers Role in Sustainable Growth – University of Technology Sydney Business School

Brink-May-insuranceA new resource, launched at the Global Compact LEAD Symposium in Madrid on November 19th, provides an overview of mutually beneficial partnerships between businesses and business schools with the aim to further sustainability strategies. To support this, a number of posts focused on these types of partnerships will be featured in more depth on Primetime over the upcoming months.

One partnership example comes to us from the University of Technology Sydney Business School in Australia. A group of Executive MBA students are engaged in a global project bringing together the UN and business partners to explore specific business practices related to sustainability in the insurance industry. I spoke with James Hutchin, Associate Dean Business Practice, and the project leader about this innovative initiative and its potential global benefits.

Provide a brief overview of the project

Executive MBA candidates at University of Technology Sydney Business School in Australia have been undertaking a study which aims to ensure that ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) risks such as climate change, human rights abuses and corruption are considered in the placement of surety bonds (credit guarantees) for big infrastructure projects. The team is working in collaboration with several of the world’s leading insurers, and the International Finance Corporation, an arm of The World Bank.

How did the project come about?

Carefully led MBA project teams have been a big part of The United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative insurance industry work since 2008, when the foundational research for the Principles for Sustainable Insurance was first conducted. Since that time, several further projects have been undertaken, many of them with the involvement of joint MBA teams working from the University Technology Sydney and The Fox School of Business, Temple University (Philadelphia).

The actual incorporation of environmental, social and governance risks in the underwriting of surety bonds for infrastructure projects is at present highly variable from insurance company to company, and varies by region of the world.   Our study will hopefully do much to establish a good picture of the current “state of play”, as well as identify what might be some useful guidelines that could be more universally adopted.

What is the Insurers Role in Sustainable Growth? Why is this an important project?

Simply put, no other industry has more alignment of interest with good sustainable outcomes than the insurance industry. When sustainability outcomes go badly, for example hurricane frequency and severity increases because of climate change, then more losses occur which in turn the industry pays. This project is critically important in that it takes the guiding principles of the Principles for Sustainable Insurance (PSI), and then seeks to apply them to a specific line of business (“product”) in a way that is useful and quite pragmatically driven.

How has the project been received by the students? What have been some of the successes?

The project is not yet fully completed and a working group of PSI executives and participating professors is continuing to progress the research. The student work to date has been outstanding, and the learning accomplished really quite remarkable. Many business schools on graduation say to students, “… go forth and change the world…” The project demonstrates our ability to deliver a project, guidance, and process that enables them to do that right now.

What have been some of the results so far?

Preliminary research by the team suggests big differences in how ESG factors are considered in types of projects in different countries. The results will feed into a project involving the United Nations, the World Bank and the world’s largest reinsurer, Munich Re looking at how the insurance industry can strengthen its contribution to sustainable development. They will also inform the development of ESG guiding principles for surety bond underwriting as surety providers are in a position to influence how ESG risks are addressed in big projects.

What advice do you have for others thinking of doing a similar project (perhaps in a different industry?)

Five things:

  • You need deep and specific industry expertise embedded in your project leader.
  • There needs to be a practical focus on actual outcomes – this is applied research, not a search for a new theory of business.
  • You need a time-tested and solid process. Getting to “professional grade” consulting output is difficult in the best of circumstances; in a university setting, working with student teams, it requires great attention to detail, timelines, and quality management.
  • Great students are a must, they will never work harder!
  • The “client” must have an executive sponsor deeply committed to the project and in a position to drive outcomes.

What’s next?

We have been so privileged to work with United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initative (UNEP FI), Munich Re, The IFC and others on this project, and have learned much about how to make the generic goals of the PSI actionable at the line of business level. What we most hope for as next is the opportunity to engage more MBA teams in the process, and complete similar projects in other lines of business, working with multiple universities around the world.

Sustainability in the Russian Business and Education Communities – Lomonosov Moscow State University Business School (Part 1)

lomonosovLomonosov Moscow State University Business School is one of the oldest business schools in Russia, founded in 1989. After being impressed by their latest Sharing Information on Progress Report, I spoke with Natalia Bukhshtaber, Associate Dean for Academic Programmes and International Affairs, Natalia Sharabarina, Director of Social Education, and Nina Koryakina, Supervisor of Social Education Programmes about some of their initiatives.

In this two-part post we will look firstly at sustainability in Russia more generally. In the second post we will look specifically at how the business school is creating a more socially responsible leaders in their innovative Diary of a Social Responsibility course.

How is sustainability/responsible management viewed within the business community in Moscow? Russia in general?

While the Russian society at large still seems to be rather poorly informed of the CSR and sustainability efforts of Russian companies (a recent survey found that 62% of respondents claimed there were no socially responsible companies in Russia), the same is not true of the Russian business community. Within the last decade or so, CSR in general and sustainability in particular have become one of the pertinent issues on the agenda. In an article on the background and the current situation with CSR in Russia, Russian-based Economic Strategies Journal provided a rating of the most responsible businesses in the country. The rating was dominated by large corporations or mid-size companies, mostly from the field of resource extraction and processing.

What have been some trends you have seen in this area?

Within the last decade we have witnessed a growing number of initiatives that could be called grassroots business initiatives, where socially responsible businesses and entrepreneurs group together to share ideas and collaborate. Among these is Social Responsibility of Business, a main information hub for news, events, and resources on CSR, sustainability, and corporate philanthropy, as well as the creation of Donors Forum, a non-profit partnership of grant-providing businesses.

The Crisis Barometer is a project that monitors the current situation with CSR and corporate philanthropy/volunteering by polling representatives of about thirty large businesses. Their most recent survey was about corporate volunteering and found that only 2 of the 22 companies surveyed stated that volunteering is not part of their corporate agenda. This is a big change, as compared to some ten or even five years ago. Surveys conducted by the Crisis Barometer also found that, even under the current financial crisis, most companies did not cut their corporate philanthropy and some even doubled their expense budgets, and nearly half of the respondents see corporate volunteering and philanthropy as an ‘anti-crisis’ measure that should ‘secure stability of social investment’.

Briefly describe Lomonosov’s approach to sustainability/responsible management?

MSUBS mission is to be an agent of social change. We do this by educating our students in the values and ethics of business, by challenging unethical practices, enforcing sustainability practices, and introducing our student bodies to a range of real life examples and cases of effective business done responsibly. We were the first among Russian business schools to introduce the courses on business ethics, corporate social responsibility, and counteracting corruption.

We encourage student and faculty initiatives and involvement in academic and practical projects aimed at creating a better, safer environment, offering new services to the community, or prompting further discussion of responsibility and sustainability. In 2013, for example, a team of our students reached the semi-finals in Challenge:Future contest on The Future of Work presenting their idea of Eco Evolution for Eastern Europe. A team of our MBA alumni developed an application for allergy-affected people. Several of our faculty attended the 21st CEEMAN International Conference and presented its concept of educating socially responsible and ethically-minded business leaders.

Business School Response to the Refugee Crisis

refugeesSixty million people have been displaced by conflict and over 410,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean from the Middle East so far this year. Although the primary responsibility for peace rests with governments, the urgency of the global refugee crisis is a challenge that requires support from all actors in society on a short-, mid- and long-term basis.

One month ago today the PRME Secretariat, together with AACSB, AABS, ABIS, AMBA, CEEMAN, CLADEA, EFMD, GMAC, GRLI and EAUC issued a call to action to business schools and management-related higher education institutions (HEIs) in response to the refugee crisis. The call was made in response to a similar call made by the UN Global Compact and the UN Refugee Agency for business to take action.

The leaders of the international academic community were called to take action and address the refugee crisis by providing access to scholarships to business and entrepreneurship related classes and knowledge resources to refugees but also by raising awareness and understanding regarding the situation of refugees, and foster social cohesion. By joining forces with business, governments, UN agencies, civil society organisations and/or other HEIs, business schools can forge long-term partnerships for education and sustainable development.

The following are just a few of the many ways that business schools are responding to this crisis.

Through Collaborative Solutions

The Centre for Education on Social Responsibility at the Leeds School of Business, CU Boulder (USA) is taking a leadership role by convening relevant groups (local government, non-profits, businesses, and business schools) to address the topic of the responsibility of business and business schools to help address the refugee crisis. The meetings will consider the economic stability, employment for refugees and benefits to local employers within the Denver and Boulder business and civic communities.

By Engaging Students and Staff

ALBA Graduate Business School (Greece) collected information on how individuals can help the incoming refugees that was sent to all students, alumni, faculty and staff. Among other things, it gave directions on how to collect items and send them to the NGOs. ALBA has already offered an MBA full scholarship to a young refugee from Africa

The French Education & Research Ministry made a recent appeal to universities in France to propose solutions and actions that would facilitate the welcoming and integration of Syrian, Iraqi and Eritrean refugees. Grenoble Ecole de Management (France) has extended their criteria for the school’s volunteer skills-sharing policy to encourage GEM employees to dedicate 1- 5 days a year of their work-time to help welcome and integrate newly arrived refugees in collaboration with local associations and humanitarian organisations. GEM’s annual Geopolitical Festival in March 2016 will also highlight this urgent issue by hosting a range of activities focused that will examine and discuss the causes, the consequences and potential sustainable and human-focused solutions to this global crisis.

Engaging Refugees

Roughly 3000 refugees are accommodated in Leipzig at an emergency camp located next campus. HHL – Leipzig Graduate School of Management (Germany) opened a collecting point for donations, which are allocated to the refugees. Financial donations received via their graduate students will be used to purchase picture dictionaries in order to support language efforts. Fifteen language interpreters from across campus coordinated the matching of language interpreters with activities. One of these activities is “Neighbour meets Neighbour”, where the refugees can introduce their regional food to students and staff on campus and get in touch with the community. Another initiative has also been put in place to host indoor activities for the refugees at campus, such as a seminar room for a Refugee Law Clinic. HHL is currently organising a field project where students will work for three months with refugee support coordination bodies and a PhD thesis is underway focusing on opportunities and challenges of labour market inclusion for Germany is also in progress. The School is also planning trainings and mini courses aimed at supporting the necessary qualifications of the refugees.

Through Coursework

Hanken School of Economics (Finland) hosts the Humanitarian Logistics and Supply Chain Research Institute (HUMLOG Institute), which is a joint research institute founded by Hanken School of Economics and the National Defence University of Finland. The aim of the HUMLOG Institute is to “to research the area of humanitarian logistics in disaster preparedness, response and recovery with the intention of influencing future activities in a way that will provide measurable benefits to persons requiring assistance”. Through this Institute, Hanken offers a course on humanitarian logistics and students in the course have been encouraged to volunteer to help in coping with the current refugee crisis. They are currently exploring the opportunity to have one project on the refugee crisis in the course this year.

Scholarships

  • Alfred Nobel Open Business School (China) will provide five scholarships to their online e-MBA for registered and selected refugees having business background.
  • Euclid University (Gambia) will be announcing specific full and partial scholarship programmes for qualifying displaced persons and refugees.
  • Haaga-Helia University (Finland) has a proposal a special intake for refugees to study entrepreneurship, languages, sales and service skills as well as career planning. After these studies, they could be admitted as regular students.
  • ESAN Graduate School of Business (Peru) will offer three scholarships to refugees.
  • University of Warsaw (Poland) will provide an access to business and entrepreneurship related classes and a number of scholarships will be offered.
  • University of Strathclyde Business School (UK) is developing a scholarship with the Scottish Refugee Council intended to help asylum seekers and those staying in the UK on humanitarian grounds.
  • SDA Bocconi School of Management (Italy) already offers two open courses (strategy and finance) free of charge aimed at increasing the employability of young people. This course will now also be open to refugees.
  • Grenoble Ecole de Management (France) will offer admission to 5-10 qualified student refugees to study in one of the schools’ programmes.

 

To submit your pledge visit https://business.un.org/pledge_refugee_crisis

5 Key Messages from Businesses to Business Schools Around Sustainability

PRME Global ForumAt the recent PRME Global Forum in New York City, business representatives from the Global Compact LEAD and PRME Champions groups met to discuss how they could work together to move the sustainability agenda forwards for their respective organisations and beyond. The discussion covered a range of different possible projects and collaborations but, in particular, focused on the need to develop employees and graduates with the relevant competencies and skills that businesses of the 21st century need.

The representatives from the Global Compact companies provided a number of interesting insights during this meeting that are relevant to PRME Signatories. Six key messages came out of the discussion, including:

  1. Business doesn’t need sustainability professionals, but rather professionals that are capable of making sustainable decisions in any role.

Many of the business representatives present suggested that a sustainability course/degree/certificate may miss the point. While basic knowledge of sustainability is of course necessary, more important is that graduates have an understanding of how to apply it in the business context in which they are working and the function that they are filling. They need all of them employees to have this knowledge and not just a few specialized individuals.

  1. Business needs better managers/leaders/team members to move sustainability forward.

Business need graduates that have the reflexes to ask the right questions and to find answers when it comes to sustainability. They should be able to ask “Will the decision I am making today stand the test of time, and if it doesn’t, what decision should I make?” Graduates need to be able to drive and influence change, build consensus, and shift the conversation.

  1. Business can see that graduates are increasingly interested in the topic of sustainability and are seeing some benefits….

Businesses in the room at the PRME-LEAD meeting stated that they receive a significantly higher number of applicants, and higher quality applicants, for all jobs because of their reputation as a sustainability leader. This is particularly true when sustainability is mentioned in the job application. Businesses are noticing the work that academic institutions are doing in this area and are encouraged by the changes they are already seeing in graduates.

  1. …but also recognise that there is more business could do to help in this regard.

As sustainability becomes core to how modern companies operate, it will increasingly be part of all jobs and therefore job descriptions and selection criteria. However, business representatives agreed that this isn’t always the case and these skills, which they admit they want/need, are often not integrated into the recruiting process. Incorporating sustainability into the recruiting process would sent a strong message to students about the importance of being knowledgeable about sustainability topics to increase their changes of being hired.

  1. Business is interested in engaging with business schools, but partnerships need to be mutually beneficial

Business schools want/need business to engage with them in order to move their sustainability agendas forward, while businesses often prefer to engage with schools that they see are already advanced in this area. For this reason business schools need to give businesses a clear reason to want to work with them. Do you have students who are knowledgeable about these topics and can use that knowledge to help a company further their efforts? Does your school have a research focus that coincides with that of a local company engaged in sustainability? There needs to be something in it for all parties involved.

  1. Business schools should become knowledgeable in what business needs are in the area of sustainability today, and prepare for what they may be in the future.

Representatives working in the field of sustainability within leading businesses are busy people with limited time and resources. They do not necessarily have the time to tell business schools what they need and want, it is up to the schools themselves to uncover these needs and tailor programmes and projects accordingly. They can do this by staying connected and up to date with sustainability issues, attending local, country, and regional Global Compact events or organising and bringing together groups of professionals working in this field from their city.

 

For more on the outcomes of both meetings, view the outcomes documents from the PRME Global Forum and the Global Compact +15. ‘The State of Sustainability in Management Education’ was launched at this meeting and provides a summary of some of the challenges that management education are facing in embedding these topics into their curriculum as well as some of the opportunities for business and academic institutions to work together moving forward.

A Selection of MOOCs on Sustainability/Ethics for Fall 2015

Lund University
There are a growing number of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) being offered on a range of sustainability topics. These courses are available for free online and open to anyone with an interest in the topic, lasting between three and fourteen weeks and taking between three and eight hours of time per week to complete. Here is a selection of such courses offered this Fall 2015, listed by topic, from PRME signatory and non-signatory schools.

Energy

Solar Energy: This course explores photovoltaic systems and the technology that converts solar energy into electricity, heat and solar fuel. From Delft University of Technology, TU Delft – starts September 1.

Energy Subsidy Reform: This course explores energy subsidies, their costs, and the design of a successful reform based on country case studies. International Monetary Fund – Starts January 27, 2016.

Climate Change – The Science: Master the basics of climate science so you can better understand the news, evaluate scientific evidence, and explain global warming to anyone. The University of British Columbia – starts October 14.

Climate Change: This course develops an interdisciplinary understanding of the social, political, economic, and scientific perspectives on climate change. The University of Melbourne – starts August 31.

Basics of Energy Sustainability: Explore basics of energy sustainability through techno/economic frameworks and global markets – a comprehensive foundation for strategic business decision-making. From Rice University – starts October.

Environment

Tropical Coastal Ecosystems: This course will help you to develop the skills and knowledge needed to help preserve tropical coastal ecosystems that provide goods and services to hundreds of millions of people. It will give an overview of the challenges, and provide tools to understand problems and solutions to manage tropical coastal ecosystems. University of Queensland Australia – starting September 1.

Introduction to Water and Climate explores how climate change, water availability and engineering innovation are key challenges for our planet. Delft University of Technology, TU Delft – starts September 1.

The Biology of Water and Health – Sustainable Interventions: This course explores how to promote safe water conservation and water sustainability to improve public health. Open Education Consortium – starts September 29.

Planet Earth…and You!: This course discusses how earthquakes, volcanoes, minerals and rocks, energy, and plate tectonics have interacted over deep time to produce our dynamic island in space, and its unique resources. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign – starts September 14.

Forests and Humans – From the Midwest to Madagascar: This course explores the forests of the world, from the taiga to the tropical rainforest. Learn why humans depend on them, and how we can sustainably manage forests for us, and the many species with whom we share them. University of Wisconsin-Madison – starts September 30.

Social

Foundations of Development Policy – Advanced Development Economics: This course uses economic theory and data analysis to explore the economic lives of the poor, and ways to design and implement effective development policy. MIT – starts September 21.

Quality of Life – Livability in Future Cities: This course explores how urban planning, energy, climate, ecology and mobility impact the livability and quality of life of a “future city.” ETH Zurich – starts September 23.

Reconciliation Through Indigenous Education: This course explores strategies, examples, and resources that support teaching and learning of indigenous ways of knowing in classrooms, schools, and communities. The University of British Columbia – starts September 29.

Business Ethics for the Real World: This self-paced course is designed to provide an introduction to the subject of ethical behaviour in business. Santa Clara University – starts August 10.

Geopolitics and Global Governance: This course offers a reflection – from a geostrategic and geopolitical viewpoint – on the basics of understanding today’s world. This course is in Spanish. ESADE – starts November 2.

Production and Consumption

Industrial Biotechnology explores the basics of sustainable processing for bio-based products, to further understand their impact on global sustainability. Delft University of Technology, TU Delft – starts September 30.

Circular Economy – An Introduction: Design a future that rethinks our current “take-make-waste” economy to focus on circular, innovative products and business models. Delft University of Technology, TU Delft – starts October.

Greening the Economy – Lessons from Scandinavia: This course addresses sustainability, climate change and how to combine economic development with a healthy environment. It will explore how individual choices, business strategies, sustainable cities and national policies can promote a greener economy. Lund University – starts September 14.

Change Makers

Transforming Business, Society and Self: This course puts the student in the driver’s seat of innovation and change. It helps change makers see below the surface of today’s environmental, social, and spiritual-cultural challenges, identify the root issues that cause them, and create solutions from a place of deeper awareness. MIT – starts September 10.

Social Entrepreneurship: This course will cover a select set of topics associated with social innovation and entrepreneurship whether non-profit or for-profit. The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania – starts September 14.

Women in Leadership – Inspiring Positive Change: This course aims to inspire and empower women and men across the world to engage in purposeful career development, take on leadership for important causes and improve our workplaces and communities for all. Case Western Reserve University – starts September 8.

Social Learning for Social Impact: In this MOOC students will collaborate with other like-minded individuals from around the globe on doing social impact work while also being exposed to concepts and models on how to effectively do so. McGill University – starts September 16.

Innovation and Problem Solving through Creativity: This course helps participants increase innovation and improve problem solving at work by fostering your creative abilities. The University of British Columbia – starts October 20.

The Science of Happiness: This course teaches positive psychology. Berkeley University of California – starts September 8.

– Are you organising a MOOC this or next term not mentioned above? Get in touch at gweybrecht@thesustainablemba.com

Management Education Engaging High School Students in Sustainable Business

IYD_20152 copyAugust 12th was International Youth Day, a day focused on the engagement and participation of youth in sustainable development. This year’s theme was Youth Civic Engagement, to promote young people’s effective and inclusive civic engagement at all levels.

Business schools around the world are putting in a range of programmes and initiatives to educate and prepare their students to be part of a more sustainable future. However, they are also increasingly actively engaging with local high schools students, providing them with a range of opportunities to do the same. In celebration of International Youth Day here we look at some examples from around the world.

The University of Guelph College of Business and Economics (Canada) works in partnership with a local enterprise organisation, and a group of 46 students working in teams, to co-create a design solution to support youth (ages 18-25) engagement within the community. Topic areas include mental health, skill development, entrepreneurship, education, employment, voting and volunteerism. The teams have 90 minutes to craft a solution, prepare an elevator pitch, and present their pitch to the group. In 2014 the winning team was “Smash the Stigma,” a blog used to inspire conversation, raise awareness, and ultimately change the identity of mental illness by encouraging youth to go online and share their story.

Faculty, students and staff at the University of Porto (Portugal) are involved in the “Universidade Junior Project” (Junior University Project), organising a series of activities related to economics, management, and sustainability for more than 400 youth. The school also promotes a yearly contest focused on management for high school students.

Fairleigh Dickinson University (USA) engages several local high schools and their teachers in two yearly conferences focused on renewable energy and social entrepreneurship. In April 2015, STEM high school students were immersed in a real-world planning experience in which mixed-school teams designed a solar PV system for their schools. During the sustainability conference, students were given the challenge of creating a business idea that is judged by a panel. Students with the most innovative ideas were awarded scholarships, certificates and cash prizes. The school has also partnered with the University’s School of Education to provide training and support to primary, middle, and secondary school teachers and administrators on how to develop and implement problem-based interdisciplinary units focused on local and global sustainability issues that benefit their communities.

Staff and students at Nottingham Business School (UK) have joined forces with three Nottingham-based companies—Capital One, Eversheds and Ikano—to deliver a financial literacy programme called “Cheese Matters!” to children at the city’s secondary schools. The collaboration with Nottingham Business School in 2013 has contributed an expanded pool of volunteers to deliver the programme, and offered students opportunities to network with local businesses that foster cultures of socially responsible business.

IEDC (Slovenia) co-founded Challenge:Future, a global student competition that has engaged nearly 15,000 students, 18 to 30 years old, from ninety countries, to address global sustainability challenges through open collaboration. With six sustainability challenges explored—communication, transportation, media, health, youth in society, and prosperity—Challenge:Future has ignited unprecedented interest across universities and continents, and created a vibrant online youth community dedicated to advancement of the vision of sustainable development.

MoneyThink is a national non-profit organisation that equips urban high school students with personal finance skills. This is accomplished through the help of college students who mentor at local high schools. A chapter was founded at the University of Notre Dame (USA) in 2014, and so far it has grown to include over forty mentors, impacting over 100 high school students in the South Bend Community.

University of Waikato (New Zealand) organised the Annual Sustainable Enterprise & Ethics (SEE) Awards, which aim to give high school students the opportunity to learn about responsible management and business ethics through analysing the impact of New Zealand businesses on the wider community. Teams of 3-5 students are required to prepare a case study on a business around their community. Students have access to an online web portal where they can acquire a broader understanding of these fundamental concepts through online seminars and materials. The winning school receives a cash prize of $500.

Wayne State University (USA) is an active partners in the Teen Entrepreneurship Program. Selected high school students from around the area are given an intensive one-week on-campus training experience in entrepreneurship. The programme, also known as “Green Teens” centres around having the students (working in small groups) develop various “green” business-based projects.

University of New South Wales’ (Australia) Indigenous Winter School Program is for Indigenous high school students from across Australia, in grades 10-12, who choose a faculty to spend three days with as part of a week-long residential programme. Out of a maximum group of fifteen students per faculty, the Australian School of Business (ASB) hosted 14 students.

Last but not least, Koc University (Turkey) provides a range of scholarships yearly which target successful students from underdeveloped cities in Turkey. So far 118 students have been supported.

Creating an Interdisciplinary Sustainability Research Network – University of Nottingham

SRN PhotoA growing number of research projects are falling under the broad topic of sustainability. How can a university facilitate stronger connections between these different projects across departments and fields throughout the university, and empower researchers already involved and interested in these topics?

A number of PhD students at the University of Nottingham created the Sustainability Research Network, a dynamic network of early career researchers from across disciplines, working on, or with an interest in sustainability, to create these connections. I spoke with Gabriela Gutierrez at the university, who provided more information about this innovative project.

What is the Sustainability Research Network?

The Sustainability Research Network (SRN) is a dynamic network of early career researchers at the University of Nottingham working on, or interested in sustainability. Today, the network comprises over 300 postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers, lecturers and other early career research staff from a broad range of disciplines across all faculties.

SRN exists to provide fora for interdisciplinary discussion and collaboration around sustainability across all disciplines, including but not limited to: Archaeology, Architecture and the Built Environment, Biology, Biomolecular Sciences, Bioscience, Business, Chemical Engineering and Mechanics, Chemistry, Computer Science, Economics, Education, Electrical Engineering, Environmental Engineering/Technology, English, Geography, Horizon Digital Economy Research, Institute for Science and Society, Institute of Mental Health, Maths, Politics and Sociology. SRN aims to support early career researchers in their personal and professional development providing opportunities for networking, learning and enhancement of skills and employability; and to stimulate academic excellence in the field of sustainability through capacity building and knowledge exchange.

How did it come about?

SRN was established in late 2012 and launched in May 2013 by five PhD students looking to create more opportunities for early career researchers working on sustainability in different disciplines to meet each other. Prior to the launch of SRN there were few informal or formal opportunities for researchers interested in sustainability to meet one another and share ideas and expertise across disciplines. SRN is currently supported and driven by a committee of eight postgraduate and early career researchers and PhD students.

The Committee organises regular events, maintains communications channels and provides opportunities for networking and collaboration across all disciplines, schools and campuses.

What has the Network done so far?

To date, the Committee has organised various events involving many researchers within our network across disciplines. The launch event in May 2013 was attended by over forty researchers across more than twenty schools/departments. Subsequent events have included external speaker lecture sessions, early career researcher-led events in association with the graduate school, external visits, and informal networking events. SRN also provides communications channels for members to share news and opportunities, to seek information, to make connections and to discuss topics of interest.

All of these events provide opportunities for researchers to learn about other fields related to sustainability and to make connections with their own work, either by presenting their work (or an aspect of it), or through a lively and engaging discussion—developing ideas and forming relationships across the disciplines represented. Some events have specifically asked participants to reflect on the challenges and benefits of interdisciplinary research in sustainability around various topics and have resulted in lively and engaging discussions. These presentations have developed ideas and formed relationships across the disciplines represented.

We have enabled members to contribute to the University of Nottingham’s broader sustainability strategy and, in particular, to online learning initiatives. SRN members have facilitated the innovative Nottingham Open Online Course (NOOC) on sustainability, which introduces different disciplinary perspectives on sustainability to undergraduate and postgraduate students across the university. SRN members also facilitated ‘Sustainability, Society and You’, a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) open to those outside of University of Nottingham, as well as the International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility’s NOOC in Sustainable and Responsible Business.

What have been some of the challenges? Successes?

Members are students or postdocs at the university for on average three years. Due to the nature and timeline of the programme, we are confronted with a number of questions: Given the turnover, how can we encourage ownership of the network by members as well as the committee? Given the diversity of research on sustainability, and even the diversity of meanings of sustainability itself, what sorts of collaboration can we realistically attempt to foster within the limited time frame of potential SRN activities? How do we create a flexible structure that will enable interested individuals to collaborate on one-off events? How do we develop greater and more independent collaboration between SRN members, to take forward the network and contribute to organising future events? How do we develop links/affiliations with similar groups at other universities, as well as with our international campuses? These are some of the challenging questions that we have been trying to address.

We have had many successes so far and a lot of support from senior stakeholders at the university. There are already more than 300 researchers in the network from at least 22 departments, and more than £2900 has been awarded to date to support the 13 events we have held since May 2012. Additionally we have been developing links with our other campuses in Malaysia and China. The network has been developing its communication channels as well, with email, Twitter (@SResearchNet), Facebook and a blog.

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

The significance of thinking strategically: From early on we contacted senior members of academic staff as well as other contacts across the university to let them know what we were trying to do, and to request their support. This has been helpful for overcoming bureaucratic hurdles, for raising the credibility of SRN, as well as creating opportunities to publicise the network and organise joint events.

The importance of listening to our members: The SRN has set up ways of getting members’ feedback and in response to that feedback we have organised different kinds of events across the university and with outside partners. Our events are structured to enable participants to meet lots of different people, with time available for discussion, and new perspectives and approaches introduced by external speakers.

Formal versus informal structure: We decided not to become an official university society. This would have secured us administrative support and funding opportunities, but SRN would then have had to adhere to an inflexible constitutional structure and would not have had the full independence that SRN currently enjoys. However, some level of formality is still required, for example having a named committee to ensure that responsibility is taken for driving the network, and we are currently considering the strategic advantage of having an advisory board of more senior staff members.

Set some time aside: Connecting both offline (face to face discussions) and online (email, google drive) is important—finding a good balance depends on the availability and working styles of the team. It is important to appreciate the variety of work falling under the umbrella of sustainability, and take the opportunity to learn about projects other people are working on.

Develop skills: There is a broad range of useful skills, experiences and knowledge that each committee member, and also network member, brings to the network, and it is important to realise their personal and professional development motivations for involvement. It has not just been about what we already knew how to do, but what we were willing to learn and what could be beneficial to us in the future.

Not to underestimate the time commitment required to set up an initiative like this: There are a huge number of tasks to keep up with. We do not have tightly defined roles for committee members, rather we are flexible and individuals are able to take a back seat for short periods when data collection, thesis writing or job interviews need to be put first, during which time the rest of the team takes the lead.

For more information on the Sustainability Research Network at the University of Nottingham visit http://sresearchnet.wordpress.com

 

 

 

 

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