The Time to Inspire: Insights from 50+20 on Transformative Education

Recently overheard at a business school:

  • “Don’t worry, they won’t fail you, you’ve already paid”, from a student to another caught cheating during exams;
  • “We’ve already accepted that we need to compromise our values to work in the business world”, from a business ethics student to his professor;
  • “The business ethics course goes against the grain of every other course that is taught as part of the programme”, from a student to a programme director.

If statements like these are indicative of the culture in business schools today, can we seriously expect management education to be the source of globally responsible leaders to address the urgent needs of our times?

Creating globally responsible leaders is one of the three pillars of a new vision for management education developed by the 50+20 project, a collaborative effort between the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative (GRLI), the World Business School Council for Sustainable Business (WBSCSB) and the United Nations Principles for Responsible Management Education (UNPRME). Launched in June at the Rio+20 summit, the 50+20 project presented a report, which proposed a cognitive re-framing of management education, so rather than being the best in the world, business education becomes a driving social force for the world.

GEF 2012 Panel

Anders Aspling presents 50+20 report on panel with Lifeworth’s Ian Doyle at Global Ethics Forum 2012.

The vision was also outlined at the Global Ethics Forum at the end of June where I (Ian Doyle), joined a panel with Mr Anders Aspling, Secretary General of the GRLI, to discuss how such a vision to create more purposeful business education could be implemented. I suggested the following building blocks for holistic business education:

  • A clear social purpose: What is a business school for? Its time to be clear and, if necessary, to update missions. The Community Individual Development Association (CIDA) University in Johannesburg is a good example. It aims to provide education in business administration for the rural poor with a view to transforming its students into leaders of their communities in turn advancing socio-economic transformation of the country and the broader region.
  • Pedagogic innovation. Schools need to work more on the pedagogic competence of their staff. This includes how staff can transmit the desire to want to discover/learn rather than assuming ‘he who knows can teach.’
  • Combine theory with action-oriented research. If schools are going to have a social purpose, they will need to adapt course content so that research is centred on resolving social problems. That way, students can put theory into action and challenge it if necessary. Furthermore, this is a fun way to learn!
  • Adapt management systems. Action research means that schools will need to create platforms to exchange with stakeholders on social issues. The 50+20 report calls this platform a “collaboratory.” Not only would such a platform be useful for research purposes, but it could transform the role of academics so that they become public intellectuals. To do so will also require that schools provide incentives for faculty to engage in such a process: and to be honest about shortcomings.

In the same vein, a sense of purpose requires that one measures success differently. One way to do this is to evaluate what extent research output produces results that can be used to resolve pressing issues in business and society.

  • Collaborate for Systemic Change. On a systemic level, what could be some practical recommendations for action and next steps in business education to help create scale? Firstly, there needs to be a cognitive reframing of the purpose of business. Secondly, business school ranking systems currently have graduate salary as a measure of the school’s reputation. Ranking systems could be adapted to measure the social utility of projects and careers, rather than equating success with monetary worth. This will require the co-operation of business school leaders in lobbying for change to ratings systems. Thirdly, school heads would do well to reflect on the future needs of society in 5-10 years and plan for them, as government regulators and funders will no doubt follow these trends, not to mention employers. Fourthly, challenge the ‘Publish or Perish’ mentality in view of career advancement, which encourages the siloing of academics. Issues such as climate change demonstrate that the world is ill-equipped to deal with such systemic issues. Schools need to encourage interdisciplinary work and applied research so that academics are rewarded for the social relevance of their work.

Previously at Lifeworth, in a study in the Journal of Corporate Citizenship, we whittled these issues down into a 16 step process that business schools could follow to embed social purpose into all their activities.

But what might be the guiding values to implement these building blocks? I’d like to propose the following values:

Humility – an issue-centric learning focus requires a spirit of communication. This necessitates humility, not power, as people are humbled before the problem they face so that they can think together.

Love – because love tells us what is important and ultimately guides our happiness. Gary Hamel, considered the world’s leading thinker on business strategy and visiting professor of strategy and international management at London Business School, says that the word ‘love’ needs to be reintroduced into the workplace. I’d go a step further and say that the verb ‘to love’ needs to be lived out in the workplace.

Faith – to believe that there can be something other than it is, for example, the world can be a better place. If students have resolved that they need to compromise their values for the work environment then this is a sign that they have lost faith and our world then becomes stuck in a rut. People need faith so that they can be moved to action.

Accountability – the word ‘responsibility’ has been hijacked so that it only has voluntary significance but its original meaning implies a sense of obligation. It is more than just an ability to respond, and thus a choice, but a commitment to responding and a willingness to be accountable for it. Thus promoting systems for ones own accountability is the highest form of responsibility.

The 50+20 vision is timely, as it highlights that ‘responsibility’ is not something that can be instructed but can be inspired and is something that needs to be lived out. This insight is one of the key aspects of a new training course developed by Lifeworth for Called ‘Voicing Your Values’, the training draws on psychological studies, executives’ personal experience, case studies, peer coaching, role play and film, so that participants:

  • are empowered to create the contexts that enable ethical action.

  • clarify their personal and professional purpose and associated definitions of success.

  • develop a personal ethical action framework.

  • can develop and deploy counter arguments to typical rationalisations for unethical behaviour.

  • identify processes for working with others to create values-supportive organisational systems.

By integrating personal ethics in a professional context, managers are equipped to transform ethical reflection into ethical action.

The one day training, which also includes Training Of Trainers, so you can deploy this in your own organisation, is being offered in Geneva on 18th October and 9th November, and can also be offered in a location of your choice if you are able to host. A shorter version will be offered on October 11th in Crete. Please contact me at idoyle at lifeworth .com or on +33 9 52 00 53 60 if you are interested in this opportunity.

Ian Doyle,


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