Global responsibility in practice: Examples of collaboration, alliance, and inter-dependency from GRLI partners and associates

In practice, Global Responsibility often comes to life through innovative collaborations that span programmes, disciplines, borders, and institutions. For GRLI Partners and Associates, alliances and connections acknowledge the truth of our interdependency and the power that comes from bringing the best of different elements together. As a mini-showcase of innovations and creative impact, the three case studies below – two based in Europe and one in Asia – illustrate how GRLI Partners & Associates are making impact within programmes, across disciplines, and beyond borders.

For GRLI Partners and Associates, alliances and connections acknowledge the truth of our interdependency and the power that comes from bringing the best of different elements together.

In the first, Dean Outerson and Ian Fenwick of the Sasin School of Management in Thailand demonstrate innovation across disciplines by integrating sustainability and entrepreneurship throughout their curriculum.

Next, Ana Simaens, Associate Dean for Engagement and Impact at Iscte Business School in Portugal shares the positive impact gained by embedding sustainability into the university’s well-established Quality Management System at an institutional level.

And third, Adrian Zicari and Tom Gamble from ESSEC Business School in France offer the case study of facilitated collaboration across institutions for system-level impact through the CoBS alliance.

Integrating sustainability and entrepreneurship at Sasin School of Management

Innovation is at the heart of achieving sustainable development: new ways of doing business, new ways of working, and new ways of consuming. Discussion of the private sector’s commitment to sustainability has mainly focussed on large companies. However, innovation is often found through entrepreneurial activities not only at the heart of existing businesses, but also in new startups.

At Sasin School of Management, our approach to responsible management has two major pillars. First, we emphasise the goal of sustainability and the private sector’s role in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals. And second, we identify the role of entrepreneurship in creating innovative solutions that will deliver on the sustainability agenda in a way that also generates profitable new business opportunities. We work in partnership with all our stakeholders to define, debate, and promote responsible business management.

In our MBA program, students are introduced to the concepts of sustainability and entrepreneurship during a five-week, blended, foundational module called Sasin Skills & Values. With a future orientation in mind, they learn the inter-relationship of these important concepts and the necessity of finding new business models that are both innovative and responsible. The concept of responsible management is presented not as an ethical exercise but as a practical way to generate additional value for both businesses and communities. At the heart of this is our belief that responsible management drives profitability.

In our DBA program, students explore a series of case-based research examples that look at how profitable small businesses have created solutions to the loss of biodiversity around the world. This illustrates the power of entrepreneurship to deliver on sustainability, creating value for businesses and value for the environment and local communities.

These examples demonstrate that profitable businesses which are driven by a clear social or environmental purpose will deliver real value for people and the economy.

We have also developed an Executive Education course, in association with the Globally Responsible Leadership for Sustainable Transformation Program (GRL4ST), looking at creating shared value through the lens of social innovation. Here, the emphasis is on showing senior managers how profitable business opportunities can be created through innovation around social and environmental needs. Through case studies, it demonstrates very clearly how profits can be generated by purpose-driven businesses while value is created for other stakeholders.

The work of our Sasin Sustainability & Entrepreneurship Center (SEC) is at the heart of this integrated agenda. Created from two separate centres, we were convinced that the sustainability and entrepreneurship agendas strengthened each other when integrated into a new approach based on purpose and driving impact. We are not without some silos in our thinking from time to time, but when you are persuaded that innovation links what was once separate thinking, we are convinced that integrating the best of both approaches leads to increased creativity, better solutions, better contributions to our communities and the stakeholders we serve. And most importantly, enthusiastic engagement from our students and researchers.

We generate impact by working with partners in Thailand. For example, in partnership with SCG we host the SCG Bangkok Business Challenge @ Sasin, Asia’s longest-running global student start-up competition, where sustainability is part of the judging criteria, and 30% of our entrants have gone on to incorporate, raising 230 million USD in investments. The winner of the competition in 2011, Siam Organic, has since become Thailand’s foremost scalable social enterprise and Thailand’s first B Corp-certified food company.

We have learned four valuable lessons from our experiences:

  • Developing partnerships with a whole range of stakeholders is central to our approach to responsible management. Importantly, we have formed relationships not only with large companies in Thailand and the region, but we have also engaged institutions that are central to supporting small businesses and entrepreneurship. This is important since the vast majority of people work in smaller enterprises, and future growth in our economies will be driven not by mature markets, but by innovative and creative start-ups that have a strong focus on sustainability.
  • It is often difficult to break down the traditional disciplines that exist in most business schools, let alone to begin to try to integrate them into new models and approaches to global responsibility. But once people recognise that responsible management education and research requires multi- and inter-disciplinary approaches, people do become enthusiastic. We have often been driven by our students who are from generations which are less interested in long-term linear careers and more interested in creating their own opportunities for business success.
  • We need to put more emphasis on small businesses where innovation can thrive and solutions for sustainability can be found. Yet, research, case studies, and education are lacking when it comes to the role of smaller companies and their contributions to responsible business management. Yet our students are often excited and enthusiastic when we present them with entrepreneurial models that they can use in their own plans for the future.
  • Generating impact requires us to focus on what will be most successful. We are inundated with opportunities in Thailand, but we cannot deliver on all of them and have to make tough choices in order to ensure that what we do makes a difference.

While this process of integrating sustainability and entrepreneurship across our programmes, our research, and our thinking is not without challenges, it’s clear that combining the “how” (entrepreneurship) with the “why” (sustainability) helps us achieve maximum impact, especially with younger generations who will be leading businesses and their own start-ups for many years to come.

Quality & sustainability go together at Iscte

Sustainability efforts call all sectors and levels of society to action, and higher education institutions (HEI) have a critical role in shifting the paradigm, as they produce and disseminate new knowledge while shaping the future of those who cross their doors. HEIs aiming to lead this change have progressively been embedding sustainability in their policies, curriculum, and practices, strategically supported by a coordinated and integrated governance approach. In the current era, HEIs are rethinking their core activities in a systemic way to address the 2030 Agenda in their strategy. For its part, Iscte has embedded sustainability into the university’s well-established Quality Management System, creating an integrated system for Quality and Sustainability (SIGQ_Iscte).

Iscte Business School is one of the four schools of Iscte – University Institute of Lisbon (referred herein as Iscte), a medium-sized public higher education institution founded in 1972 in Lisbon, Portugal, which became a public institution with a foundation status in 2010. The campus, located in the heart of Lisbon, is a warm and welcoming place for educational innovation. It is a specialised University Institute, which holds a top position at the national level regarding its two founding domains, management, and sociology, further expanded with the inclusion of economics and other social sciences, public policy, architecture, and technologies.

Under the mission defined for SIGQ_Iscte, Iscte has established its commitments in the Sustainability Policy in the context of its educational, research, and social outreach activities, and affirmed the limits and intrinsic opportunities in human and natural ecosystems, Iscte has been a leader in its integration of sustainability in a holistic perspective into strategy, including teaching and publishing about the SDGs, and progressively integrating sustainability concerns throughout all its activities.

The integrated management system evolved from the ISO 9001 certification, established ten years ago, into the ISO 14001:2015 certification of the Environmental Management System in 2018, and the Social Responsibility Management System certified in 2020, under the Portuguese norm NP4469:2019. To achieve this degree of integration, support from sustainability leadership at various levels and the engagement of the community were critical. Iscte publishes its Sustainability Report following the guidelines of the Global Report Initiative (GRI), seeking to communicate its performance in the three dimensions: Planet (environment), People (social), and Prosperity (economic). It reflects the recognition of institutional responsibility in promoting sustainability, in alignment with the UN Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The working groups of the three sustainability dimensions – Planet, People and Prosperity – have been critical in this process. The evolutionary approach led to three plans built upon each other that today are integrated into a single sustainability plan to be incorporated into the strategy at both the rectorship and Business School levels.

As a part of its mission, the Iscte Business School in particular is highly committed to empowering students with the knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes to contribute to globally responsible leadership. To that end, the school engages in key partnerships to make improvements in this area while providing new opportunities to its students, faculty, and staff. Iscte Business School welcomes collaborations in the topics of ethics, social responsibility, and sustainability that allow for a higher positive impact on society.

Alliance with a purpose – The Council on Business & Society (CoBS)

‘How many business schools does it take to change the world?’ This was the rallying call coined when, back in 2011, a small group of business schools and leaders in their respective countries, decided to create an alliance dedicated to teaching and promoting responsible leadership. Along with inspiration and support from long-standing friends and partners the GRLI and UN PRME, this collaboration became the Council on Business & Society, or CoBS.

Initially focusing on business and society issues, in 2017 the CoBS naturally began to include the Planet within its scope, impelled by a surge and interest from all sectors of business and society to address environmental issues and the climate crisis. What impact does business have on society and planet? How do we change the way we teach business and management practices? How do we shift from a purely profit objective to a focus on the common good? How does research play a part? How many business schools does it take to – positively – change the world?

Today, the CoBS alliance counts eight member schools on four continents. Friends and working partners include the OECD, B4IG, GBSN and ESG Consulting firm Ksapa in addition to GRLI and UN PRME. Together, the CoBS pools the resources and knowledge of 12 campuses in 10 countries, approximately 700 faculty members, 32,650 students and 258,000 alumni. We have an ambition to remain ‘small and beautiful’ with a limit on member schools established in key geographical regions across the world. The aim is to offer insight on global issues, but also be able to offer their unique local and regional identity and skills.

Since 2018, the CoBS has used the approach of identifying truly actionable research from its faculty and transforming this high-level expertise into readable and engaging knowledge, tools and initiatives for students, professionals and the thinking public. We offer this through three main areas of activity: Research & Publications, Pedagogy, and Events. CoBS’s digital imprint now hovers around the one million mark per year, with the unprecedented events and subsequent solidarity of 2020 seeing an all-time high outreach of 1.4 million.

Although dedicated to working for each of the member schools, the CoBS is inclusive. Since 2018, we are one of the only – if not the only – body that encourages both external faculty, students and citizen participation in our initiatives. Our thought leadership platform CoBS Insights offers a Wednesday slot for readers and non-CoBS students to post their work, with a growing number of submissions – subject to a stringent quality process – since 2020. Guest faculty, practitioners, and reader submissions are featured alongside CoBS faculty in our quarterly magazine Global Voice. Online masterclasses are open for the public to raise questions and enliven the debate. From autumn 2022 onwards, ESSEC-CoBS will hold a Science & Society forum where citizens from the region and beyond will be encouraged to attend and actively take part in the various debates and workshops alongside CoBS faculty, researchers, students and policy-makers.

So, how many business schools does it take to change the world? We like to think the CoBS counts in this tally, but not only aiming to be the best in the world in terms of education and responsible leadership, but also the best for the world.

Global responsibility in practice Examples of collaboration, alliance, and inter-dependency

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