Building Sustainable Legacies

Business Schools finally involved in the World Economic Forum

A blog by Katrin Muff at Business School Lausanne in collaboration with Julia Christensen Hughes of the College of Business & Economics at the University of Guelph and Mette Morsing of Copenhagen Business School and the Stockholm School of Economics

You may wonder why business schools should be present at a global economic event. Well, some leaders have received their education from business schools and there is great pressure from civil society and business that business schools do a better job in educating the future generation of leaders. Leaders that can deal with the complexity of a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (short VUCA) world, that have a solid values-based inner compass, can work effectively both inside and outside of their organizations, fluent in systems thinking and capable of leading multi-stakeholder initiatives that address the complex issues that the world is facing. At Business School Lausanne, we call such people “Responsible leaders for a sustainable and just world”. We are dedicated to developing such leaders across all of our programs, from bachelor to doctoral degrees and substantiate our learning space with world-leading research in the areas of sustainability, responsibility and transformation.

We are not the only ones! Toby Heaps, CEO of Corporate Knights and Jonas Haertle, Head of U.N. PRME jointly invited 40 business school Deans who are championing responsible management education for a better world. So, for the first time at the World Economic Forum in Davos, a comprehensive cohort of Deans from such disrupting schools were present to discuss how to strengthen our initiatives and collaborate with like-minded business leaders. There are 13’000 business schools around the world, and while there are 700 signatories to the PRME principles, it is high time to disrupt the 20th century curriculum built on flawed assumptions about the economy, the purpose of business and the role of a leader. These 40 champions offer inspirational ideas for providing a 21st century education and research focus that provides the foundation to receive a “licence to educate” as expected by society (source

Celebration dinner of the 40 champion business schools appointed by United Nations PRME, in collaboration with Corporate Knights. Lisa Kingo, Head of the UN Global Compact, addressing the champions

I had the privilege to spend time with Julia Christensen Hughes, Dean of the College of Business And Economics at the University of Guelph in Canada and Mette Morsing who created possibly the largest CSR center in business at Copenhagen Business School and who is now creating a similar new sustainability research center at the Stockholm School of Economics. Being roommates in a rustic (AirBnB) apartment in Klosters has allowed not only great late night and early morning talks around the kitchen table, but also deepened a human connection that results from the bonding experience when three women have to make do with one bathroom and make it out of the door by 6am. My coffee capsules helped a bit, and Julia’s tea bags did magic, as did the wine we shared. The celebration dinner hosted by Corporate Knights and PRME allowed us to deepen connections with fellow Deans who have been partners on our transformative journey such as Philip O’Regan who last year hosted an unforgettable joint PRME and GRLI conference in Ireland. It also allowed us to make new connections with delegates from around the world including Africa, and new faces such as AIM in the Philippines, Berkeley in the USA and Insead in France.

Mette Morsing, Julia Christensen-Hughes and Katrin Muff

Visiting the Sustainable Impact HUB

Business schools have a long way to go. And so does business! While it may seem contradictory to participate in an event that assembles a global political and economic elite and where social entrepreneurship is possibly seen as a noteworthy phenomena, we realized how important it is for us, leading disruptors in business education, to also have our voices heard if we are to support further disruption in enabling global business to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Our input was appreciated and called for at many sessions, including those that focused on women’s leadership (and yes, there is a case suggesting that women deans can be particularly effective change agents, like women managers!). In business oriented sessions, our input and reflection was also sought and appreciated; it was heartwarming to feel how welcome our presence was. We were also challenged. Business expects significant change in education – we heard calls for breaking down silos, teaching in interdisciplinary non-linear ways, focusing on problem solving and embracing a spirit of experimentation and co-learning with our students. We also heard of how technology, applied well, is democratizing education – providing anywhere anytime access and opportunity to learn.

Participating in a breakfast meeting

Influencing and networking at the WEF in Davos happens everywhere, not just in meetings. This is the Davos magic. I talked to a successful entrepreneur who became interested in doing an MBA at BSL while queueing for my badge. Mette challenged assumptions behind the WEF competitiveness report while sitting next to its author in a shuttle bus. Julia met business leaders with an interest in supporting further curricular innovation in her business school. She also proudly participated in sessions offered by one of her alumni on block chain and crypto currencies. We got first-hand insights into the new IMF report while riding a local train and we thought of an inspiring new initiative around the Golden Rule when having lunch with Kim Polman. Julia also met renowned author of Donut Economics and HD recipient Kate Raworth while riding a late night shuttle. Kate is designing the first entire updated 21st century economics course with BSL to be launched in September 2018. The WEF demands that you are present in every single moment and that you are free to engage in the most diverse kind of conversations you can imagine at any time of the day, from the moment you open your eyes until your head hits the cushion. It is as much exhausting as it is exhilarating and if we leave this event with one shared learning it is this:

We will be back next year and we will be better prepared and better organized. We will work on the ideas that were developed this time around and announce the results next year. We will organize a house where Transformative Deans (or Deans as Agents of Change) can meet and discuss effective ways to transform not only their own schools but the management education landscape. It takes leadership, and this year’s WEF theme seems to suggest that it takes female leadership. Well, that is a currency we have plenty of!



What is the role of business to contribute to a world worth living in?

House of ReligionsToday I spoke at the beautiful House of Religions in Bern, a wonderful open space for dialogue across cultures. Together with an engaged public, we discussed the decoupling of the many corporate responsibility efforts on one side and the pretty poor state of the world on the other side. The Business Sustainability Typology (BST) developed by Thomas Dyllick and me served as welcome framework for the discussion. It allowed to channel and focus the various perspectives and enabled a positive, solution-oriented nature of our discussion. The BST differentiates between three types of business sustainability and challenges organizations to fundamentally rethink their corporate strategy to become “truly sustainable”. This BST 3.0 ideal state invites business to adopt an outside-in perspective and to start by considering burning societal issues and evaluating what relevant resources and competencies they have to help solve these challenges. Or, as Peter Drucker said: “Every single social and global issue of our day is a business opportunity in disguise”.

Much time was spent considering alternatives to address and resolve the European refugees crisis and besides overcoming a defensive fear that is well present, we concluded that most urgently of all, we need a space where stakeholders discuss this problem and explore avenues of solutions. I concluded by referring to the 50+20 vision which out this responsibility squarely into the hands of public universities. With their unique convening power and the right stakeholder engagement facilitation (see the collaboratory solution), universities and also business schools can create the space to ensure that we start the dialogue now about how to integrate large numbers of immigrants into a Europe that has just become a new entity we need to redefine and embrace pro-actively.

On my way home, I have embraced my little part of an action: I will mobilize relevant stakeholders of European business school to issue a Call of Action for b-school to provide immediate and non-bureaucratic scholarships to refugees stranded in Europe, irrespective of their visa situation. And I am considering housing such a student at my place when Business School Lausanne will accept such students as early as next February. Obviously, I feel inspired! Thanks for a great afternoon.


1 Comment

Question-based learning

The secret to uncover solutions that leap-frog above and beyond current practices is the ability to ask pertinent questions. Enabling students to ask good questions is the higher purpose of teaching and represents an essential factor of successfully educating leaders to embrace problems we don’t yet know and come up with solutions that don’t yet exist based on technologies that have not yet been invented. An intended side effect of question-based learning is the increase in a student’s ability to hold the tension of not knowing answers and the ability to live with half-truths, partial answers without shying away from courageously taking a step in what appears to be the right direction given what is known at that time. Acting – reflecting – correcting – and acting again will be the future dance of our leaders. It may be called “stumbling forward”[1], a not so elegant yet courageous engagement towards the world.

The key benefit of question-based learning is the development of liberal learning. The 2011 Carnegie Foundation report on undergraduate business education in the United States demands from business education an integration with liberal learning, in order for students to:

a)       Make sense of the world and their place in it,

b)       Prepare students to use knowledge and skills as means toward responsible engagement with the world, and

c)       Instill students a sense of responsibility for the Common Good, guided by commitment & values.

This is achieved by a) analytical thinking, b) multiple framing, c) reflective exploration of meaning, and d) practical reasoning.

Reflection and awareness  in a world becoming more complex, more unpredictable, more challenging, means getting rid of unilateral thinking, conventional ideology, and reductionist vision of the raison d’être of the firm. – Philippe de Woot

Un-covering assumptions that shape the way we look at the world is a critical step to be able to start forming one’s own opinion about what feels right. Another element of this approach is the inherent possibility to render conscious the many currently undeclared assumptions of the oppressing current economic thinking, opening the opportunity to discuss alternative avenues. Some of these assumptions are:

  • Growth and consumerism as the unquestioned answer to economic downturns and crises since the 1960s. Despite that fact that growth has driven us to a state in which we use 1.5 planets to cover our current needs.
  • The contribution of business to society is measured by the return on shareholder equity limiting the purpose of business to maximizing shareholder value,
  • For the longest time, goods of Mother Nature have been free of charge (fish stock, forests, water, commodities, etc.) with capital only being required for the exploitation and often the destruction of these resources. Governments of emerging countries have started to lease or sell entire regions (valleys, glaciers, frost land) to companies to exploit the inherent natural resources that often took millennia to develop.

[1] This term was developed by Katrin Muff in the case study of Business School Lausanne with Prof. Dr. J.B. Kassarjian of Babson College (2008-2010).


We often question the impact of research conducted in universities – here is some good news!

Much has been written and much more has been discussed about the lack of impact of social sciences. Here is an outstanding article of how the “Professor Divide at American Universities” can be fixed. The authors make a valid case for a Teaching-Intensive Tenure Track. If you are in education or care about education, this is a must read!


It may be shocking but Charisma matters…

In a most relevant and highly enjoyable TEDx Lausanne presentation, University of Lausanne’s John Antonakis presents latest research on how people get elected and how important charisma is to succeed. He doesn’t just let us hang there, he demonstrates a few easy tricks of how to build charisma yourself so that you can do measurably better, irrespective of the fact with how good looks you were born!

John Antonakis


Switzerland has published its CSR Swiss Action Plan

On the 1st April, 2015, the Swiss government has produced their report and action plan for Corporate Social Responsibility, suggesting how business should embrace its societal responsibility. The action plan on Business and Human Rights and the Swiss response to Special Representative John Reggie’s framework principles on Business and Human rights is envisaged for summer 2015.  The Irish Government is already a few steps ahead, they are now working on the Business and HR plan. The question is: is the plan good enough? Will it get us to a world where 9 billion people can live well and within the limits of the planet? How will we know? What do you think?


What if organizations evolved like people?

Based on Frederic Laloux’s inspiring book Reinventing Organizations, Peter Green has created a most enlightening visual arts video both summarizing Laloux’s work and translating it into a lesson of “Lean and Agile Adoption”.

If you are a general manager, HR manager, a team leader, business student, young entrepreneur, start-up wizzkid, this video will inspire you to consider different ways of organizating for success. I am so curious to hear what you think of the video and what concrete action you are inspired to do! Let me know please!