Building Sustainable Legacies

A call to action – launching the 50+20 vision

During the 3rd Global Forum on Responsible Management Education the 50+20 vision is launched with the unveiling of the 50+20 Agenda and short film.

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Business Schools Without Borders

50+20 visits the People’s Summit in Flamengo Park during the RIO+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro to host a collaboratory.

Collaboratory with Greenpeace

A discussion with Amazon Campaigner, Tatiana de Carvalho on the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior during the RIO+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.


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A radically new vision for business schools: towards a Call to Service

If we consider what the world needs us to do and what is expected of business schools in order to contribute to successfully address the existing and emerging societal, environmental and business challenges world-wide, we recognize that we are invited to embrace a call to service:
A call to service: To educate citizens to act responsibly for the world.

Let us look in more detail at this call of service in order to understand the amplitude of what is implied by this vision:

  • A call to service = a clear purpose beyond and above keeping our institutions alive, enriched by the understanding that education stands on equal footing on external knowledge and internal wisdom.
  • To educate = an issue-centred education complemented by subject or domain knowledge focused on the big issues of this world, replacing teaching with a powerful and safe learning environment. Learning embedded in action-learning platforms of collaborative laboratories (collaboratories). Research supporting global issues by involving stakeholders in the definition of research topics and delivering results to them in appropriate formats.
  • Citizens = you and me, business professionals, artists, activists, consultants, coaches, women in emerging countries, micro entrepreneurs, collaborative networks, seniors, everybody with a desire to make a positive contribution to this world.
  • To act = empowered learning to enable action, facilitating participants to wake up to what is inside of them, embracing the adventure ahead, becoming eco-literate and fluent in divergent thinking and courageous action, learning to act as a result of being.
  • Responsibly = creating a space to reflect on action and choices, to connect with true purpose and inner values, embracing the choices and consequences for society and planet in the long-term.
  • For = rather than against, rethinking strategic product & service needs, complementing competition with collaboration and understanding that we are all part of the same larger Unit. Sustainability is the obvious and essential guiding principle of life, business and anybody with a desire to act. Example:  waste-free closed-loop cycle inspired by nature.
  • The world = beyond the current paradigm of capitalism: serving society and the planet.

If we consider what the world needs us to do and what is expected of business schools in order to contribute to successfully address the existing and emerging societal, environmental and business challenges world-wide, we recognize that we are invited to embrace a call to service:
A call to service: To educate citizens to act responsibly for the world.


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Reflecting on the underlying paradigms in management education (1)

Business education has been a victim of countless unconscious, un-reflected choices that have deeply affected what and how we teach business and management. If we want to make progress in developing reflective and responsible managers and leaders, we need to reflect on the underlying paradigms in management education. These debates have been conspicuously absent in the classroom. As a result, we have robbed our students – future business leaders – the chance to reflect on these crucial issues and to develop their own perspectives. These include the following:

What is the purpose of business?

Milton Friedman was convinced the business of business is business. But is it true? And why is this? In looking at the impact of business today, it seems much rather the business of business is definitely more than just business. In the same vein: Is business an economic institution or is it a social institution? Does it serve its shareholders or a larger group of stakeholders and society overall? These questions need to be raised again and answered anew, if we want to make progress with regard to sustainability and responsibility.

Why do we need business growth?

We blindly accept the conviction that business growth is a necessary key factor in economic development. Business theories have been developed in a period of high-growth. And there are no useful models for business in an economy without growth. A business that doesn’t grow is considered a failure. Everything must grow: profits, market shares, reputation, salaries and shareholder value. This assumption has guided decision-making across all fields of business from strategy and finance, to marketing and HR. In the past two decades, new perspectives have emerged (see the de-growth movement). There has been little debate and reflection on the many unwritten rules and underlying assumptions of economic and business growth.


Complementing free education with action learning

It is simply a question of time until all leading thinking in terms of business expertise for each function (marketing, finance, HR, strategy, operations) will be available on-line and accessible for free. A number of emerging models in related fields are strong indicators for this – the Khan Foundation, Born-to-learn and dozens of other initiatives.

Business schools need to enlarge the customers of business schools to include any citizen in the world with a desire to make a positive contribution to our world. We should find ways to effectively teach her the necessary business and management skills and competences no matter where in the world she is located. We need to offer as much information as we can for free on-line.

It can well be argued that free on-line education is not sufficient to develop the kinds of leaders we need. Some educational entrepreneurs have embraced this challenge and may or may not proof us wrong. We believe that it is important to complement on-line education with face-to-face action learning. Part of this vision is to figure out ways to create action-learning platforms for citizens in any part of the world, not just within business schools.


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The challenge for business educators

As business educators we must challenge the underlying assumptions of economic and business development, like the need for economic growth, unlimited consumerism, shareholder value. It is up to us to ensure that we create leaders who will focus on creating value for the world rather than only for a few shareholders. Leaders who act as servants for the common good operate a conscious business, they are engaged with society and the planet and they are asking for their real needs concerning economic innovation.

This is the contract we as management educators have with the world and with society. No more silos, no more tenure, no more clear-cut divisions between institutions, nor between business and other active players in the world (formally known as NGOs) , nor more citation indices to evaluate scholars.  This is what we must measure ourselves by and this is what we should strive to achieve. And we shouldn’t leave a stone unturned in order to get there, even if it means undoing some brick and mortar and doing away with some ivory towers.

Business executives – more than any other profession – have developed the capacity to deal with complexity and to adapt their strategy to an evolving environment. Businesses have evolved beyond national boundaries into global enterprises, uniquely able to address and act on global issues. As such, they do have an important contribution to make as co-trustees and co-actors, working with all stakeholders towards a larger vision for the world (“Living well and within the limits of the planet’s natural resources”, WBCSD).