Fostering a better world through business education

As climate change and inequality increasingly threaten human well-being, businesses are under pressure to replace profit maximization with people and planetary concerns; the same is true for business education.

As we show in this FT report on responsible business education, there are already many examples of business schools adapting to calls for reform from students, teachers, employers and the community alike.

The FT covers these issues in its business education report and is tweaking the methodology of its business school rankings to increase scrutiny and recognition of activities around sustainability and social purpose.

But indicators have their limitations. As the broader debate on corporate environmental, social and governance responsibility demonstrates, some topics are difficult to quantify easily, comparablely and comprehensively. The same applies to education, which plays a key role in preparing the next generation of managers and entrepreneurs.

This is why we launched the Responsible Business Education Awards last year to ensure a qualitative analysis of the wider campaign to showcase, reward and motivate individual examples of best practice.

We thank distinguished judges from the corporate world, nonprofits, academia and more who have deep expertise and passion in their field.

An important conclusion from the second year of the awards is that the strength of the inaugural winners was not a one-off. We received another impressive list of entries from around the world and identified a number of outstanding projects for the shortlist and joint winners.

This year, we revised our criteria. After focusing in 2022 on alumni ‘changemaker’ entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs as key ‘outputs’ from the Business School, we shift focus in 2023. We look for real work examples of students “learning by doing” in our project sessions with third party organisations.

While the efforts of individual winners are commendable, their work also highlights the important role of the mechanisms that connect them to useful projects. For example, ESMT in Berlin has a Responsible Leaders Fellowship that allows MBA and MSc graduates to provide pro bono support to organizations addressing social challenges in low-income countries.

For another winner, the Hult Prize is an important hotbed for a global competition that challenges university students to solve social problems through business and provides funding to help them test their ideas.

Recognizing the central role of classroom teaching, our second award this year is for innovative teaching methods – with a particular focus on decision-making for sustainable development or climate change adaptation.

A growing number of business schools offer a wealth of relevant teaching cases that are influential because they reach large numbers of students. The judges concluded that some of the best material goes beyond traditional cases, offering online training, simulations, coaching, mentoring and even meditation.

Many articles are co-authored by multiple authors from different business schools and are made available online for free to reach as many peers elsewhere as possible.

Final awards are awarded to academic research with social impact and practical evidence. Better works are usually written by multiple authors from different institutions, departments and countries, and published in a wide range of channels.

Attributing causality is no easy task. Yet academia often continues to define impact simply as the fact of publication in specialized journals that offer rigorous peer review but have a limited readership. The better ones will at least seek out or pay attention to their research reports in the media and practitioner outlets.

In contrast, the best entries describe the authors’ efforts to disseminate their ideas more widely, engage in public debate, and participate directly in decision-making in public and private sector organizations. In fields as diverse and important as modern slavery and organ transplantation, their indicators of success are far more dramatic.

Good academic researchers may not always be the best candidates to disseminate or implement their ideas more widely, nor should the pressure to come up with practical applications compromise their intellectual freedom.

However, business schools need to do more to encourage them to focus on societal challenges, connect their ideas to action, and overhaul incentives that are too well suited to research that is disconnected from teaching or outcomes.

We welcome feedback on these awards, including ideas for improvement and suggestions on how we can ensure we receive deeper and broader future submissions – especially from business schools outside of North America and Western Europe.

Andrew Jack is Global Education Editor at the Financial Times

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