How many business schools does it take to change the world?

Danielle Steele and Liane Weitert describe how six business schools from around the world have joined forces to make the idea of applied interaction a reality.

In 2010, Dr Pierre Tapie, former Dean of ESSEC Business School in Paris, France, questioned what role business schools were playing in solving some of the world’s pressing societal issues.

He recognised the enormous potential schools can have in finding or creating relevant, sustainable solutions to these global issues and determined to turn the theory of interaction between business and society into a reality.

Dr Tapie set out to create a global think-tank, an international network of leading business schools, which could contribute to problem solving from different, country-specific perspectives.

The idea was to have each of the partner schools involve their networks – from researchers and students to corporate, political and non-governmental collaborators – to form a global alliance. In the end, six business schools came on board, with a common belief in the power of academic excellence, global outlook, innovation, social responsibility, humanism and transformational leadership, to form the Council on Business & Society.

“Because we are training the leaders of tomorrow, we have a responsibility to ensure that our students recognise the important role they will play in developing socially responsible business practices,” says Jean-Michel Blanquer, Dean of ESSEC Business School.

And Xiongwen Lu, Dean of the School of Management Fudan University in China, a member school of the Council, adds that “society is a big platform for any enterprise involved in higher education. As a leading institution of higher learning in China, we have a responsibility to proactively contribute our thoughts, insights, research and findings to benefit not only the international academic community but also the global economy”. A series of conferences, known as International Forums, is one of the key elements of the Council’s work. Although the six partnering schools are located on different continents, they mutually set the agenda for researchers, students, politicians, and representatives of corporations and NGOs.

Many months of preparation, co-ordinated via countless emails and video conferences, precede the forums, which bring together all involved for a rewarding and motivating experience. The personal exchange during the forums also gives an enormous boost to the joint research that flanks the conference preparations on a long-term basis.

“Motivation and mutual trust are essential when it comes to the Council’s organisation,” explains Christian Koenig, Associate Dean of Strategic Partnerships and International Relations at ESSEC and the Executive Director of the Council. “Communicating with the faculty and staff of six business schools in different countries has its challenges.”

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