This story is cross-posted in Network for Business Sustainability
Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development 2012, Rio-Brazil

In an effort to re-orient business schools’ curricula, the Principles of Responsible Management Education (PRME), an academically-minded offshoot of the UN Global Compact created in 2007, holds a Global Forum every two years. “Business schools have been too concerned about being the best in the world. Now they need to aspire to be the best for the world” (emphasis added; statement from the Principles of Responsible Management Education’s Rio Declaration, one of the outcomes of the 3rd Global Forum).

The goals of the 3rd Global Forum, held in conjunction with the Rio+20 conference, were: 1) to generate a concrete plan of action for better management education through initiatives and collaborations and 2) to assemble a statement to be submitted to the Global Compact, who would then incorporate it into their recommendations for the Sustainable Development Goals.

A plan of action

“I wonder if academics are afraid of action,” asked Claus Pederson, Head of Sustainable Development of Novozyme, to a room of 300+ professors, deans and directors of business schools. These comments may have triggered a sense of urgency, as the second day of the Forum resulted in launches of several issue-specific initiatives and documents that can be viewed collectively here. These documents range from the practical to the inspirational.

The forum also resulted in PRME’s Strategic Outcomes Document, (summary here, titled The Rio Declaration on the Contribution of Higher Education Institutions and Management Schools to The Future We Want: A Roadmap for Management Education to 2020) to be submitted to the UN as part of the Global Compact outcome document created June 18. In particular, it suggests a need to:

  • Reassess and redefine the purpose of management education
  • Seek coherence so that sustainable development becomes the core of management education, instead of being confined to niche programs in schools
  • Engage colleagues and leaders in order to reach to all students
  • Be a leader through the creation of a leadership group that creates accountability and transparency

Where are the top-tier business schools?

With a few exceptions, top-ranking mainstream American and European business schools were noticeably absent from the productive event.

Mainstream business schools have consistently followed a model that has proven to be highly successful; however, a proven track record doesn’t always guarantee long-term success. While non top-tier and non-traditional business schools strive to learn from the top-tier schools, there are still plenty lessons for established schools to learn. Only through participation in these global engagements, however, can this learning and sharing be achieved.

The action steps until the next Global Forum in two years then, are significant: to re-orient management in a major way through coherence, engagement and leadership. It’s a big task, but this Forum’s participants left optimistic that business education is changing for the better. Let’s hope top-tier business schools aren’t left behind.