The EFMD business magazine

The EFMD business magazine

Embracing Transformation: A Call to Action for Business Schools Around the World

The combined environmental, technological and societal transformations taking place globally require business schools to equip students with the skills to tackle these profound changes. ESCP, in particular, has risen to this challenge. By integrating sustainable thinking into every course, introducing ‘no code’ classes and prioritising digital literacy, ESCP ensures students graduate confident in their sustainability mindset and technical know-how. At the societal level, ESCP promotes greater understanding and inclusivity with its multi-campus model and bespoke initiatives dedicated to inclusive leadership, such as its Women in Leadership and LGBT+ Leadership programmes.

At the start of 2023, headlines around the world were dominated by a new lexicon. Generative AI, ChatGPT, Large Language Models. OpenAI became a household name. In just two months after its launch, ChatGPT reached 100 million users. For comparison, it had taken TikTok around nine months to do the same. The ultra-advancement of technology left every industry astonished and promised to reshape the way we live, learn, and work at a speed that was previously unimaginable.

Today, we stand at the crossroads of a rapidly changing landscape. We find ourselves confronted by not one, but three major transformations: environmental, technological, and societal. These transformations are reshaping the way we interact with the world around us. In this new era, the role of business schools takes on renewed significance. We are not simply observers of change but actors of it. Our duty is not just to adapt but to lead, to initiate and propose new ways of thinking and to equip the next generation of accountable leaders with the tools and mindset they need to navigate these shifting tides.

Throughout ESCP’s over two-hundred-year history, the school has traversed revolutions, technological breakthroughs and social upheavals. We have transformed time and time again to ensure the relevance of business education and prepare purpose-driven leaders for tomorrow. And we must do so once again.

In this article, I delve into the pivotal role that business schools play in responding to and supporting these transformative forces, with a specific focus on our commitment at ESCP to driving change in the realms of sustainability, technological innovation, and societal inclusion.

The Environmental Transformation

The urgency of the climate crisis has spurred an environmental transformation that requires a total rethink of business and education. Our model of education and business development has been based on the idea that the sky’s the limit when it comes to human progress. In this context, we sought to control our environment at all costs.

Today, we need a new way of looking at the world that ensures harmony with our natural environment and biodiversity. With over 800 million jobs vulnerable to climate extremes and the impact of net zero ambitions according to Deloitte, our future depends on it.

At ESCP, we believe this can be achieved through a holistic approach that integrates sustainable thinking into every course while providing a laboratory for research and practical application to experiment with new business models. In 2021, we established a dedicated interdisciplinary sustainability department to oversee this approach.

Thanks to their efforts, all courses at ESCP now have a mandatory sustainability element. To ensure that our faculty and staff have the foundations of a sustainable mindset, ESCP provides regular training via the Climate Fresk and free, asynchronous online classes provided by Axa Climate School.

Beyond our academic walls, ESCP is dedicated to accompanying learners and businesses in transforming the way they see the world. For example, transforming Africa for a sustainable future by developing its human capital is a prerequisite for an ecological transition. This theme is at the heart of the concerns of our Chair for Responsible Innovation in Africa co-directed by Professors Nathalie Prime and Caroline Verzat. With the platform Commons for Future, ESCP provides open access to all content from the second-year Master in Management course Energy, Business, Climate & Geopolitics run in collaboration with the Carbone 4 Academy. The new STAR (Sustainability Transformation & Applied Research) Centre located on our Berlin campus will be a hub for research transfer, new learning approaches and community building to spark sustainable innovation and new business models.

In the words of STAR Centre co-founder Prof. Florian Leke-Freund: “Sustainability is not a tool to solve business challenges. Business is the tool to solve sustainability challenges.” This perspective underscores the vital role business schools play in meeting the challenges (and opportunities) of the environmental transformation. To face this emergency, we will launch accelerator projects on sustainable and regenerative business models.

The Technological Transformation

In today’s fast-paced digital age, technological advancement is at the forefront of global progress. The ABCD transformation – comprising Artificial Intelligence (AI), Big Data/Blockchain, Cloud Computing, Cybersecurity, and Digitalisation – is reshaping industries, economies, and societies worldwide. Business schools must look beyond classic management studies to equip our students with the technical know-how to navigate this complex landscape. These skills are not just essential for personal and professional growth but also for understanding the profound impact technology wields on our world.

From our Master of Science in Big Data and Business Analytics to the introduction of ‘no code’ courses, we are designing programmes to bridge the digital divide and empower individuals from diverse backgrounds to engage confidently with technology. All business school graduates today must possess the digital literacy required for success in the modern business landscape. Democratising access to technology and fostering inclusivity are key steps to ensuring that the technological transformation benefits the greatest number.

While this transformation is technological, true innovation will come if we can combine disciplines. This is something that ESCP Professor of Entrepreneurship Sylvain Bureau discovered over a decade ago with the creation of the Art Thinking method. Invented in 2011, this method draws from observing similar patterns in all types of creative activities, whether in art, science or entrepreneurship, ‘to create the improbable with certainty’. By infusing artistic principles into business thinking, we cultivate a new generation of leaders capable of driving innovation and pushing the boundaries of technological advancement.

Ultimately, it is only by embracing technology’s potential while addressing its challenges that we can harness its transformative power to build a better future for all. It is our role to help our students to learn about the light side (positive aspects) of the ABCD transformation and to anticipate and prevent their dark side (potential negative consequences).

The Societal Transformation

It is now commonly understood that companies that prioritise inclusion and diversity reap numerous benefits. Inclusive workplaces can call upon a broad spectrum of perspectives, experiences and talents to boost innovation, creativity and resilience. Encouraging employees to embrace their true selves not only cultivates a workplace that boosts employee satisfaction and self-fulfilment but also equips them to more effectively meet the demands of an ever-expanding and diverse customer base.

Businesses and business schools alike must embrace the transformative power of inclusive leadership. At ESCP, our multi-campus model not only enriches our students’ experiences but also helps them learn to bridge divides and create connections across cultures and sectors. We’ve developed bespoke programmes and research initiatives to delve deep into the nuances of inclusive leadership, aiming to empower current and future business leaders to become role models in the workplace. Our Women in Leadership and LGBT+ Leadership programmes do exactly that while helping our participants reach their full potential.

As we face this societal transformation, there is still much to learn to truly embrace inclusion and diversity. With the launch of our new open chair dedicated to Women in Finance, our mission is to understand the causes of underrepresented women in key positions in financial sectors and to bring recommendations for improvements. At ESCP’s Excellence Centre for Intercultural Management, Diversity and Inclusion, our goal is to deepen the understanding of intercultural management, diversity, and inclusion-related issues in organisations and to translate the latest scientific insights into practice.

Above all, we have a responsibility, through teaching, student experiences, research and executive education to empower empathetic, adaptable, and effective leaders who can navigate this societal transformation.

Embracing transformation to ensure the future of business (education)

The environmental, technological and societal transformations we face are not separate events. They are not the concern of only one group, region or government. These transformations cross boundaries and are impacting, and will increasingly, impact all of us. As business schools, we have a responsibility to be an active participant in this time of transformation and initiate the new pathway for a better future and society. We cannot rest on our laurels or the “old ways” of business if we want to ensure that our students and our societies have a prosperous and resilient future. The last several decades, if not the last year, have made that clear.

Sustainable thinking, technical acumen and inclusive leadership are the skills of leaders who will face these transformations and change our world for the better. Business schools across the globe have the opportunity to be not just observers of change but actors of transformation. Through education, research and partnerships, we must shape the leaders who will navigate and contribute positively to these transformations. Will we answer this call to action? Our reply is yes.

EFMD Global Focus 1801_embracing-transformation-call-to-action-business-schools

Leon Laulusa is Executive President & Dean of ESCP Business School.

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