In recent years, a popular buzzword has emerged within education systems: transformation. For business schools, it has always been essential to adapt to the changing needs of their faculty, students, and other stakeholders. However, today’s pressing social problems have accelerated the need for new perspectives and creative solutions. For prospective students, the spirit of a school has become a key factor when choosing which program to attend. Now more than ever, students are forced to understand the future impact they can have as business leaders and aspire to align their studies with their personal values.
The corporate sector is also focused on tackling social issues and has begun to hire graduates who are passionate about making an impact and driving change. Customers are putting increasing pressure on companies to take action on climate change, racial justice, and other critical issues. We are also seeing that prospective employees want to work for companies whose value aligns with their own and whose missions include positive impacts on society.
How to better serve these students and organizations
To better serve these students and organizations, business schools can drive social impact in a variety of ways, starting by examining their missions, understanding their stakeholders, and using that information to frame their approach and define initiatives to create social impact. positive. Schools can also assess the scope of their approach, exploring factors such as region and scope (local, national, international), to determine the type of business school they are and strive to be. The results of these efforts will affect research and outreach by determining how schools can make a difference, but will also reveal opportunities in curriculum, programming, and other variables to engage students and give them the tools they need to recognize and address complex problems. social challenges.
During my time as dean, I noticed that students had the most influence in driving change. By meeting with students and participating in forums, insightful administrators soon realize that today’s students want their education to align with their values. Business schools need to become more creative and intentional with their student organizations and other extracurricular programs, as these activities provide unique opportunities to engage with students and understand how they want their school to empower them to create a positive impact on society.
Leverage the capabilities of faculty and professional staff
Schools can harness the skills of their professional faculty and staff, who are valuable resources for enacting change and leading others. Faculty members have become increasingly aware of how major societal issues and challenges affect their students. For example, in one of my classes I assigned students to identify a pressing social problem and build a company to address that problem, with the additional proviso that the company had to be sustainable in the long term. This restriction made the task more realistic and really challenged students to think about what might work. It helped them develop skills like creative problem solving, empathy, and collaboration that they can apply to create positive change in their future business careers.
The designation of research areas by a school is also vital because the school may have certain expectations for researchers and will need to make appropriate funding available to them. Schools may need to adjust their priorities to ensure their research aligns with overall institutional goals. Solutions to the many challenges facing society require input from multiple disciplines, so bringing together a variety of perspectives and resources to create interdisciplinary research groups can be very powerful. Many schools are already carefully readjusting their research practices, but the key is to be intentional in the range of activities they undertake. Thinking about it, recording what difference the school is making, and inviting feedback will help schools move their research efforts forward.
AACSB recognized the need to help schools prioritize social impact in research and other activities. From 2018 to 2020, I was part of the task force to develop the AACSB Business Accreditation Standards for 2020. When we spoke to business schools around the world, they highlighted how important social impact has become to them. Faculty growth and outside interest in this area made it clear to us that adding it to the new standards should be a priority. When we released the draft standards on the forums, we received incredibly positive feedback, especially when it came to the social impact standard. The proposed standard resonated widely with school leaders, who agreed with the underlying principle that business schools and companies can be powerful forces in making the world a better place.
Meet the standard on social impact and drive positive change
As business schools strive to meet the social impact standard and drive positive change, the path to success will vary from school to school. Schools are at different stages of evolution, so each school must identify the areas in which it intends to make a difference. Help develop a microplan that will provide a roadmap to ensure social impact is integrated into all business school activities, from curriculum to research and outreach, and to ensure adequate resources are available to support every effort. A microplan must also ensure that students have the opportunity to lead and develop the ideas that are shared within the curriculum.
As with any process involving change, the challenge for a business school looking to increase its focus on social impact will be to address and refute naysayers’ doubts. A common complaint is that change is not necessary because the status quo has been fine for decades. But change management provides a way forward. The change management process involves ensuring clarity on how to achieve goals, agreeing on the process, and articulating what the end result will look like. Stakeholders will not always be fully aligned on all of these factors, but a key step is to identify the critical leaders in the school who will guide and encourage others to make change happen.
To overcome the challenges of changing existing systems, business schools must engage all stakeholders, including faculty, from the start. If research power or capacity is lacking, those limitations provide an opportunity to rethink and establish new strategies. It may be necessary to upgrade the skills of existing teachers or hire new teachers. The next step will be to ensure that the right infrastructure, professional staff, and funding are in place, as well as fostering the right support and realistic expectations to sustain manageable progress. To facilitate this process, school leaders should identify opportunities to partner with industry, government, and other social groups that could benefit from collaboration. Business schools were not created to exist in silos, and they must remember to build on the strengths of other schools and their communities to create change.
Just as there is no opinion, there is no route to change. The best way to implement a new social impact agenda is to encourage a wide range of perspectives by inviting everyone to the table. It is vital to have discussions and debates, for people to ask questions and to consider all sides. Take full advantage of the strengths offered by a diverse ecosystem.
By Geoff Perry, Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer, Asia Pacific
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