GLOBAL: Business schools promote responsible leaders

'Social responsibility' has assumed new meaning in the international business vocabulary: it is now about corporations moving from being the best in the world, to being best for the world. There is also growing implementation of the notion, thanks to a UN-sponsored global initiative to encourage business schools to promote responsible commercial practices.

The Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative, GRLI, is a worldwide partnership of companies and business schools that targets development, advocacy and execution of new business-related learning practices and work.

"We are a partnership of actions, a laboratory of the global community wrestling with ideas on what the role of leaders should be," Mark Drewell (pictured), GRLI Chief Executive Officer, told University World News.

GRLI, based in Belgium, is a foundation set up by the UN in 2004 as an action-oriented network that works as a catalyst to tackle key global challenges through exchange of learning and debate. It aims to produce the next generation of responsible leaders - agents of change who will develop the world in a sustainable way.

Drewell said that to promote the notion of social responsibility globally, the GRLI teamed up with the United Nations Global Compact to set up Principles for Responsible Management Education, PRiME.

Some 300 business schools have signed up to PRiME, which has six guidelines: encouraging and training students to undertake sustainable business practices; incorporating in curricula themes of social responsibility; creating educational materials that advocate responsible business leadership; working with companies to advance corporate social and environmental responsibility; and promoting public debates on responsible business practice.

The idea, said Drewel, was to facilitate central discussions on how and what to teach and to publish new approaches to doing business.

Six years down the line, GRLI has built a global community connected by shared values and a deep sense of the need to see change in business education.

Universities gain a platform for collaboration on business projects and access to an emerging body of knowledge and good practices in global responsibility, Drewell said. GRLI holds two to three working meetings a year, providing a platform for members to meet face-to-face, engage in hands-on activities, explore changes and share experiences and learning.

The GRLI is also linked to the Prince of Wales' Business and Sustainability Programme, run by the University of Cambridge, which is recognised as a leading forum for decision-makers to explore innovative, high-impact and pragmatic approaches to reconciling profitability and sustainability.

To date GRLI membership has grown to 69. It has set a limit of 120 partners - 60 each from businesses and business schools.

"We had to set a maximum limit in order to stay focused on being a community of action rather than a club that you join and receive services in exchange for paying dues," explained Drewell, adding that participants have to remain fully involved.

New members are by application and are vetted by a board to check their track record of taking action for change and an entrepreneurial mindset. A geographical balance is adhered to, with companies and business schools from across the world represented.

Organisations pay a once-off fee of EUR20,000 (US$26,400). The figure might seem high for some developing world business schools but, Drewell insisted, was worth it since business schools benefited from training and opportunities to share well thought-out options for business teaching delivery that conformed to modern times.

Growing the initiative has not always been easy, Drewell admitted.

"The biggest challenge is that many business schools are not learning organisations in the way that they teach companies to be. The dilemma is that the majority have long-standing, fixed ways of doing things and there is often strong resistance to change from faculty."

Drewell said the GRLI was in the process of developing a blueprint for the university business school of the future. "We will have succeeded when business leadership education is transformed and administrators of systems are replaced by entrepreneurs who deliver economic and technical progress for society."

Now the GRLI has embarked on phase two - maximising its impact. "We are encouraging individual, bilateral and group actions wherever individual partners have the energy to act," Drewell continued.

"The agenda becomes how to get everybody to live well within the constraints of today. The situation might demand a new growth model, but the issue is we have to develop the matrix for success. Not all of the GRLI's projects are about to bring immediate solutions. We know we are on a long journey," he said.

The new five-year strategic plan includes continuing to develop 'front-runner' organisations among its partners, encouraging them to undertake major transformation and become role models and 'test beds' others can learn from.

Efforts to increase GRLI's visibility also prompted the production of two new publications: the Journal of Global Responsibility and the Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal.

To nurture a progressive future, GRLI is also grooming 'ambassadors', a network of young managers and students committed to global responsibility, through a competition that provides a platform to share ideas on the development of globally responsible leaders. The first year of the competition has received more than 40 entries from students worldwide.

The latest partner to be accepted by GRLI was the Rhodes University business school in South Africa. Its director, Professor Owen Skae, said it was the first in the country to have focused on environmental management as a core component of the curriculum. This had been broadened to encompass sustainability.

"There is a clear recognition that business opportunities and job creation opportunities come out of thinking and implementing sustainable business practices in an organisation," he said.