Integrating global responsibility and sustainability with business educationNov 22, 2012
The following article was first published by the Globe and Mail as a special information feature in the November 2012 issue of Report on Business Magazine.
Since launching Canada’s first Executive MBA in 1968, Simon Fraser University’s School of Business has gained a reputation for program development that meets the shifting demands of an increasingly global marketplace, as well as for its world-class research.
In 2011, the newly named Beedie School of Business built on that reputation by growing a number of initiatives aimed at integrating sustainability principles with education.
Those efforts have occurred at every level of the institution, and incorporate a broad sustainability mandate, says Dean Daniel Shapiro. “A sustainable society is one that does not do harm to its environment, but is also sustainable socially and economically.”
For undergraduate students, the business school offers courses in social entrepreneurship and in sustainable innovation, which are augmented by a social venture accelerator. “We have many courses in our programs that cover sustainability and social innovation, but we’ve also tried to link those courses to higher levels of experiential learning,” explains Shapiro.
At the MBA level, another group of students works on projects related to sustainability in a “living lab,” launched in partnership with Ecotrust Canada, a non-profit conservation organization.
In keeping with its “social sustainability” mandate, the school also introduced an Aboriginal Business and Leadership EMBA and an Americas EMBA.
Focus on the Americas
In the Americas EMBA, SFU partners with three other universities in the U.S., Mexico and Brazil.
For Americas EMBA student Yurij Duda, the opportunity to work with an international team has great appeal. Following a 20-year career with a global company, Duda now works as a self-employed consultant. The international nature of his studies has deeply affected his view of what is possible in business. A visit to an NGO that provided microfinancing in Santiago, Chile, for example, left an indelible impression, he says. “Listening to the way this business operates and sustains itself economically, and helps very marginalized people create livelihoods for themselves, with such limited resources, was a profound experience.”
Addressing Aboriginal business
The Aboriginal EMBA is designed to equip Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal leaders with skills that will lead to sustainable opportunities for Aboriginal Peoples and create Aboriginal business opportunities for non-Aboriginal leaders.
“In terms of environmental sustainability, western business thinking might be described as struggling to catch up with the traditional way in which First Nations and other indigenous people view their place and responsibilities in the world,” notes Mark Selman, director of the Aboriginal EMBA. “On the social side of sustainability, we live in a very unequal society that is still wrestling with the effects of colonialism.”
In one sense, he says, the program is an effort to address reconciliation and rebuild the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in a respectful way.
“Many First Nations are accessing more wealth and resources, so this is becoming increasingly urgent,” he adds.
The program is also designed to create important networks for current and future leaders. “It can be difficult for leaders of First Nations to pick up the phone and ask other leaders how they are dealing with a particular issue,” says Selman. “The EMBA program builds a different set of relationships between the various participants and therefore a different kind of network.”
The links created by the students will become an important information exchange that allows First Nations leaders to build on each other’s experience more effectively, he predicts.
The Beedie School has also launched many non-curricular sustainability initiatives. For example, in partnership with Teck, Canada’s largest diversified mining company, the school has joined the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative (GRLI), a worldwide network of companies and learning institutions that advances responsible leadership.
The SFU-Teck GRLI project aims to further define understanding of the way companies can develop sustainability cultures.
The findings will then be shared with other GRLI partner members, which include companies such as IBM, Daimler and Petrobas, the state-owned oil company of Brazil, as well as other leading business schools.
The recently established Responsible Minerals Sector Initiative (RMSI) fosters dialogue around effective leadership and responsible management within the extractive sector.
The initiative brings representatives of communities, civil society, governments, academics and companies from all over the world together to discuss the primary issues that they confront.
Glenn Sigurdson, chair of RMSI, says, “To build successful enterprises and maintain access to an increasingly diminished global mineral supply and the long-term relationships that are fundamental to continued operations, organizations must engage with an extraordinary number of players and stakeholders.”
The initiative endeavours to build a “knowledge engine” in which engagement “helps to shape better practices and more responsive research and the process of building better practices and more responsive research continues to engage and inform the conversation,” he notes.
“Mining is an industry that is really important to our community, and through RMSI, we’ve engaged the global community in a dialogue on issues of sustainability in the sector,” says Shapiro.
In this and other initiatives, he adds, “Our aim is to be the connection between the global world of knowledge and our local community.”