Building Sustainable Legacies


There is hope – alternatives to cloning Paul Polman!

I am not the only one to have suggested that if we want to save the (corporate) world, we have no choice but to clone Paul Polman. As a matter of fact, this is one of the comments Kate Robertson (Co-founder of One Young World), who received a Dr. Honoris Causa from BSL along with Paul, made to Paul and me on Saturday. The idea of cloning Paul Polman has two elements:

  • First, it is a great compliment to Paul who has in the past 4 years risen to be recognized as the most admired “poster boy” of corporate sustainability – a direct result of his relentless drive in not only transforming Unilever but also be co-initiating a long list of coalitions both in front and behind the scenes in a great many domains that were traditionally considered beyond reach for a CEO.
  • And second, it expresses a certain frustration if not desperation of many observers that there are not many in these influential positions who define their responsibility in such a way that what they do truly serve society and the planet while – of course – ensuring the continued success of the organization they are leading.

BSL Swiss Sustainability Hub Forum

Reflecting back on our big BSL day last Saturday, 20th September, I cannot but help realize that our two big events converged into something bigger. Paul Polman was a part of both events in a significant way – maybe this was part of the magic (more here):

  • The Swiss Sustainability Hub: the kick-off session to set up a Coalition to bring Switzerland to assume a leading role in the sustainability movement (short for: all people living well and within the limits of the planet)
  • The annual BSL Graduation with more than 500 participants from more than 40 countries

Mark Drewell, outgoing CEO of GRLI and one of our BSL Academic Advisory Board members, shared his impression of the event as follows: “the change of energy from previous years was palpable. You have now accomplished the shift at BSL – the community is really there and there is a powerful sense that there is not only willingness and desire to contribute to this new world we need, but also competencies, determination and real action.

And indeed, as I observed our graduates receive their diplomas, proudly spending a moment with their classmates and continuing the bond they started to build during their studies, I sense more determination, clarity, courage and passion to find a way to contribute to this world than I have ever picked up before (and it is not that we have lacked high-spirited students in previous years!). Bruno Oberli, the Director of the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) commented on it during the Swiss Sustainability Hub panel discussion. We had our audience vote on who should drive the launch of the Swiss Sustainability Hub, government or business, and just about everybody broke the voting rule by holding up both options. Bruno laughed and said: “If you are able to shift beyond either/or to a new paradigm of both/and that easily, then we really don’t have anything to worry about as you understand the key element of what we need in future: a pragmatically new way of considering our options!”

A big part of this sense was also how smoothly and collaboratively our BSL team worked for, during and after this big event. Despite perfect preparations, events like this always require many miracles behind the scene dealing with changes, emergencies, adapting what was planned to the emergent reality. There is nobody I would like to rather work with than the BSL team consisting of Aurea, David, Denitsa, Katarzyna, Mary, Massimo, Olivier, Teresa and Yasmina. If everybody assumes their place and space with the same sense of service, dedication, passion for the common good and spirit of collaboration as our team, then maybe there are alternatives to cloning Paul Polman.

If the BSL team and our graduates have this sense of purpose, then we know that it is possible to create environments that stimulate such alignment of purpose, competency and cooperation. We all know that there are many many teams and individuals who are truly connected to an inner sense of purpose in many places around the world. And maybe rather than waiting for cloning technology to get up to speed, we  simply need to trust in the human capacity and in the emerging leadership that is happening across so many organizations at so many levels. What we can do in the meantime is getting better in building the right environments and capacities to speed this up. Educational institutions are an obvious starting place AND any other organization that has people showing up for work. This reminds me of what Mischa Liatowitsch, who graduated on Saturday from our MBA program, said during his studies (see short 1 minute video here).

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Big news in our small business school world: Sustainability moves up the agenda at business schools

Big news in our small business school world:

GRLI who hosts 50+20 becomes the armed wing of EFMD and AACSB to implement sustainability and responsibility in business schools:

FT.com featured this morning the announcement about EFMD / AACSB  supporting GRLI at:

http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/c87ed4a6-920d-11e2-851f-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2NsVrLm63


The GRLI Announces a Strategic Alliance with EFMD and AACSB International

Excited to share the GRLI announcement about a strategic alliance with EFMD and AACSB International:

The Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative (GRLI) has entered into a long-term strategic partnership with EFMD and AACSB International (AACSB).

The agreement will see two of the most influential global voices in management education working closely with us going forward. The formal announcement notes that AACSB and EFMD will partner with our GRLI network of forward thinking companies and business schools to focus on an important message: that business and business schools need to work collectively to devote greater attention to developing responsible companies and leaders in the future.

This is exciting news for both our agenda and for us as a global partnership. Over the past nine years we have learnt a great deal about catalysing change in the complex interface between management education, business and society. This move creates a platform on which we can transform success into significance as we work to scale our impact in partnership with EFMD and AACSB International.

Commenting on the agreement, Eric Cornuel, Director General and CEO of EFMD said “The GRLI, which we co-founded with the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) in 2004, plays an important role already in providing direction, support, and visibility to what business schools are doing to foster responsibility and sustainability. However while there has been some initial success, much more remains to be accomplished. GRLI will become the armed wing of our shared ambitions at EFMD and AACSB to accelerate change.”

AACSB International President and CEO John Fernandes said: “In recent years, the role of business as a sustainable and socially responsible enterprise has risen consistent with the world’s demand for accountability. Through our accreditations and services, AACSB and EFMD are important stakeholders in addressing society’s objectives of sustainability, social responsibility and ethical leadership. This move increases the intensity of our focus in this area, and will enable both organisations to serve our members more fully as they seek to address the challenges of 21st century management education.”

To reinforce our intent to make this partnership operate at the highest level, EFMD and AACSB will join GRLI’s current Board of Directors, by each appointing two representatives that will participate in governing decisions. The two organizations will also provide financial support to bolster our capacity to achieve our mission.

Detailed discussions will take place amongst the three organisations over the coming months to turn the agreement into a practical programme. This will include making knowledge and expertise developed by the GRLI accessible to EFMD and AACSB members, as well as participation in GRLI’s pipeline of projects and its various international events.

This is an exciting time for the GRLI and confirms our role as an influential catalyst for deep transformation at the interface between business, management education and society.


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Here is today’s launch speech.

“Today is not just another day and not just another conference. Today, we present to you the result of two years of voluntary work by many many passionate people who deeply care about ensuring that business schools and management education truly contribute to a better world. In this process, John Cimino’s song the CALL which he just performed has been our inspiration to be daring and courageous.
I was 22 years old when the original Rio conference took place in 1992. I was studying business at BSL, the school I now run as a Dean. Stephan Schmidheiny‘s book “changing course” changed my life. While I was environmentally conscious in my private life, my experience at work had taught me that I better leave personal interests at home and be strictly “professional” at work. With Rio 92, I sensed a new world opening up – one where I could integrate my personal passion into my professional work and help companies to become sustainable.
Today is not business as usual. We need something different from the usual conference debates. We have seen and heard all this before … The same words, the same arguments. We are busy rearranging deck chairs while the titanic is sinking! This cannot be another Copenhagen! The stakes are simply too high. The time is up – it is OUR generation and this is OUR time. We are the ones, who need to drop what we do, reflect and take courageous steps in a new, right direction. Now!
50+20 is a collaboratory, an open-source effort of GRLI, the WBSCSB and UN PRME. Our aim was to come up with a radically new vision for management education. A vision that started by asking big questions, like
– what kind of a world do we want?
– what does this mean for the kind of society we will need?
– what is the role of business and the economy in this?
– and what should business contribute to such a new world?
– what kinds of leaders do we need to achieve such a transformation?
– and as a result, what would that mean for management education?

We worked in a collaborative process with people around the world, including more than 100 thought leaders. Many people in this room have been involved in ways large and small. And we invite you all to stand up.

Together we created a vision beyond incremental change. Management education FOR the world, management education in service of the common good. We see 3 fundamental roles. We reframe education, we give a concrete purpose to research and we introduce public engagement as a new responsibility for business schools.

This is about new benchmarks and the benches you see here symbolize that. They have been created by artists around the world from re-cycled materials. We invite you to look at them, sit in them and feel the creativity and the fire for a socially just and environmentally sustainable future they embody.

Today, right here, right now we officially release the 50+20 Agenda. Here it is in physical form.

Digitally it’s in the conference documents and online at 50plus20.org. Its the start – we have developed a process of engagement, there will be a book in the fall, there are over 100 emerging benchmarks on the website which may serve to inspire. We have worked hard to strip out the
greenwashing the blue washing and well meaning intentions.

But what matters is not what others do, it is your engagement and whether we personally take up the challenge of service to mankind. If you share the passion to drive deep change and would like to take action in an advanced community please give me or Katrin your business cards.

So now we bring you the voices and faces from around the globe who have helped us define the 50+20 vision. Turn off your email open your hearts and souls, and enjoy what the people out there have to say to us.



Management education of the future

Incremental change is not an option when looking at the planetary boundaries[1]. We need radical, disruptive thinking and vision that fundamentally question the unconscious underlying assumptions that form the mainstream discourse that determines the way we look at business, society and the world. While many traditional business programs today have a focus on leadership or entrepreneurship, few fully integrate these areas and even fewer integrate responsible leadership, sustainable entrepreneurship or enlightened statesmanship.  As Kenneth Mikkelsen (2010) notes, the speed of change is now so intense that firms must adapt faster than ever before, thus, linking leadership and entrepreneurship is mandatory if the adaptive organization is to be realized.

Holding the space for sustainable leadership for a sustainable world is a tall order and the single ideas brought together in this vision are not new. In fact, many of them are well established in other fields. We are hopeful that the magic of the vision lies in the clarity of focus in which these state-of-the-art ingredients are brought together and the purpose which they are dedicated to.

The future management school not only develops globally responsible leaders, it does so by walking the talk. It embraces globally responsible leadership by embodying its key dimensions of entrepreneurship, leadership and statesmanship as defined by GRLI[2]. We suggest that beyond developing leaders, the future management school needs to also support organizations, particularly business organizations, to successfully transform into operations to serve society and the world. And, we believe it is high time for the management education profession to actively engage in and lead the public dialogue on how to transform the existing flawed economic system into a structure that isn’t purely self-serving but contributes to the world vision we have defined above.

 

Figure 1: Holding the space for providing responsible leadership for a sustainable world


[1]            Johan Rockström: “Planetary Boundaries” (2010)

[2]            As defined by Philippe de Woot of the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative (GRLI)