Building Sustainable Legacies


Designing a university for the new millennium

Here is an inspiring model of desining a university for the new millennium.

The model described here has no silos (i.e. no departments), a circular building,  no faculty ranks, same teaching load for all, no lecturing or professing – only tutoring, classrooms built for roundtable discussions, curriculum setup to promote trans-disciplinary, question-driven and experiential learning etc. etc.

 

Following 35 years on the faculty of Columbia University in New York, more than half of that time as Chair of the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Dr. Helfand developed a deep understanding of the problems of traditional universities. Seizing an opportunity to redesign higher education from scratch, he has served as a Founding Tutor and, since 2008, as President and Vice Chancellor of Quest University Canada. He is also President of the American Astronomical Society, the professional society for astronomers, astrophysicists, planetary scientists and solar physicists in North America.

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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 (2)

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:

Who do we educate?

We need to start by defining who such leaders will be, what positions they will occupy, where they will be needed most, and what competences, skills and attitudes they must possess. We should discuss if we best educate a limited elite or as many potential leaders as possible; if we should re-educate current leaders, emerging talent or today and tomorrow’s youth. And which “investment mix” would have the biggest positive impact. How do societal changes, gender issues and other relevant issues provide new requirements and voices to leadership issues[1]. As such, is it more important to ensure that every citizen assumes his and her personal responsibility for a common good or can such a burden continued to be left on the shoulders of a selected and elected few? How do we address the issue of individual vs. collective leadership? What is the importance of educating women, parents and minorities both for direct leadership as well as indirect role modelling in society’s smallest unit, the family and stomping ground of future leaders? Today, leaders with a general business and management knowledge are sought in domains far beyond “only” business. NGO’s, governments, not-for-profit organizations, small family business, start-up companies, independent consultants, schools (including business schools) all need to be managed more professionally and more effectively. Our client is no longer “just business” and it is no longer just business that we should be teaching.

A new wave of change is emerging just now: the 4 billion of people at the bottom of the pyramid – these people in developing and emerging countries who desperately need to know how to go about becoming effective actors for the world by providing products and services in their communities that are relevant for the society. Channelling these people’s desire into effective entrepreneurial thinking that is embedded in responsible and sustainable behaviour is the biggest emerging challenge in education world-wide. What is the role business schools can, should and must play in there?


[1]        In May 2011, the Swiss government voted for a controlled shut-down of its nuclear power plants over the next 20 years – of the seven elected ministers, the three men were overruled by the four women. The Swiss president, one of the four women, stated that such a decision came with a price and that new solutions needed to be invented to compensate for the loss of energy provided, however, that this was the only right decision to take for future generations.