Enhancing social innovation in Africa

With Africa’s population projected to grow to 2.4 billion by 2050, there is an urgent need for the emergence of more social innovators, operating at scale, to address pressing problems in sectors from education and healthcare to employment and housing, writes Ndidi Okonkwo Nwuneli

Oiginally labelled the ‘dark continent’ and largely unknown to the rest of the world, Africa is now being described as the ‘last frontier’. 

Following decades of slow and uneven economic growth, the average growth rate across African countries is estimated at 5%, and more than two-thirds of the countries in the region have enjoyed 10 or more years of uninterrupted growth. 

The majority of the countries are recognised as democracies and internal and cross-border strife has diminished significantly. An average African woman’s life expectancy rate has risen from 41 in 1960 to 57 years in 2017, and more than 70% of children are in school, compared to around 40% in 1970. Many of these advances can be linked to the work of a growing number of passionate and committed social innovators: individuals who have identified novel solutions to the continent’s most pressing problems that are affecting the masses. These innovators operate in the public, private and non-profit sectors and are concentrated in the health, education and energy landscapes, with a growing number emerging in financial services, agriculture and sanitation. 

Their work is being propelled by the rapid advances in mobile technology, which facilitates mobile health, mobile education, payment systems and mobile money. In addition, they are gradually being supported by a range of initiatives including innovation accelerators, hubs, prizes, and fellowships. 

The most popular Africa-based social enterprises include the African Leadership Academy and African Leadership University, Ashesi University, Bridge International Academies, One Acre Fund, Riders for Health and Sanergy. These organisations have received numerous local and global awards and prizes for their pioneering efforts, and have strong links to the international community, which has provided funding and support for their work. 

There is also a growing number of organisations operating on the African Continent, which are essentially home-grown initiatives with minimal global recognition. They include:

  • Action Health Incorporated established by Dr Uwem and Nike Esiet in 1999, to address the rising incidence of HIV / AIDS and teenage pregnancies in Lagos, Nigeria. Over a 10-year period, they designed and introduced sexuality and reproductive health curricula into public schools, fighting against the odds in a deeply religious society. Today, this curricula and its delivery has been adopted across the majority of the public schools in the country, and have played a key role in reducing HIV/AIDs and teenage pregnancies.
  • CLEEN Foundation founded by Innocent Chukwuma, was established in 1998 to address rising crime rates in Nigeria’s major cities and create bridges between the police and citizens. Faced with stiff resistance from both sides of the divide from the onset, CLEEN worked with the Nigerian Police Force to revive and strengthen its internal accountability mechanisms such as the Police Public Complaints Bureau (PCB) in six Nigerian states. It also encouraged the police force to make its processes open and transparent, which ultimately exposed the gross misconduct of many police officers, leading to the dismissal of more than 5,000.
  • IkamvaYouth in South Africa was established in 2003 by Joy Olivier and Makhosi Gogwana. The organisation equips students in grades 9, 10 and 11, from disadvantaged communities, with the knowledge, skills, networks and resources to access tertiary education and / or employment opportunities. These ‘learners’ eventually become volunteers and ultimately continue the cycle of giving back to the next generation of ‘learners’. IkamvaYouth operates in the Western Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, North West, and the Eastern Cape, reaching thousands of young people.
  • The Ethiopia Commodity Exchange (ECX), was initiated in 2008 as a marketplace or platform that facilitates the trading of agricultural produce between buyers and sellers. It provides transparent price information for both farmers and buyers, and protects both farmers and traders from price drops and price hikes, respectively. ECX harnesses innovation, technology, and storage infrastructures to mobilise products from smallholder farmers and ensures product quality, delivery, and payment.

Challenges faced by social innovators

Social innovators operating on the African continent face challenges that are not unique to Africa, but are often more severe, with higher stakes. My interviews with more than 80 African social innovators have raised four critical shared challenges:

  • lack of credible data for local communities, countries, and regions, which slows down the processes for planning, piloting, and scaling social innovations and hinders the ability of key stakeholders to measure their impact on society. 
  • heterogeneity within and across countries, which includes significant diversity in colonial histories, language, religion, culture, community assets, and social development, essentially means that there is ‘no single story’. Innovations must be tweaked or significantly altered to enable scaling from one community to another, which is not only more expensive, but also slows the scaling process. 
  • fragmented ecosystems, in almost every sector, especially the agricultural, education and health landscapes, limit the ability of innovators to reach large numbers of people in record time. Consider the agriculture sector, where 85% of arable land in Africa is cultivated by farmers with less than two hectares. This essentially means that any intervention that wants to scale up in this sector can only do so by working with farmer clusters as opposed to individual farmers. The process of creating clusters of farmers, hospitals, schools, small and medium-sized enterprises, and other sectors, and building trust among
  • these groups, takes time and requires financial resources. 
  • significant talent, infrastructure and financing gaps which limit scaling. For example, only one-third of Africans living in rural areas are within two kilometres of an all-season road, compared with two-thirds of the population in other developing regions. This, in turn, makes it extremely difficult and expensive to extend healthcare, education, and agriculture innovations to communities in rural areas. Sadly, with underdeveloped distribution and marketing systems, social innovators essentially work along all aspects of the value chain, filling gaps that ordinarily would not exist in other markets to reach people.

Prerequisites for success

All social innovators need to invest in critical building blocks for success – rooted in sound management principles: clear missions, visions, and values. However, there are at least four prerequisites to establishing successful social innovations in the African context which deserve significant attention.

1 Compelling business models: Social innovators need to develop compelling business models, defined by six critical components: demand driven, measurable impact, simple, engages the community, leverages technology and low-cost. These six components differentiate initiatives which die at the pilot phase or when the donor funding ends, from initiatives that are sustainable and able to achieve scale, spanning communities and even countries. Innovations that are demand driven essentially meet the needs of individuals, who value the product or service and are willing to contribute their time and financial resources, regardless of how minimal, to obtain them. In addition, the innovators have determined the most cost-effective approaches to deliver at scale and developed effective systems and structures to support their scaling effort. They often use simple payment mechanisms using mobile technology and support from microfinance partners, where applicable. These tools are highly dependent on a robust data – tracking system to gauge impact and usage. Two examples from the energy sector that demonstrate the power of demand-driven and sustainable business models are M-KOPA Solar and Off Grid Electric, which both operate in East Africa. They provide solar solutions to more than 550,000 households using a pay-as-you go model, and have demonstrated the tremendous potential at the bottom of pyramid

2 Talent for scaling: Talent on the African Continent remains a huge constraint for all growth sectors given the weak education systems and the global opportunities that are available to the best and brightest. As a result, every social innovator needs to invest in attracting and retaining a dream team composed of mission-driven high achievers. They also need to invest in recruiting a committed and independent board of directors, and engage volunteers, short-term consultants, and fellows. Organisations such as EDUCATE! In Uganda and Sanergy in Kenya, have designed and implemented creative strategies for attracting, retaining, and developing talent. They have also invested in building a culture of innovation and excellence, which attracts individuals from the private sector to their organisations. 

They offer tailored training programmes, travel fellowships and significant job responsibilities for their team members and have also developed modular approaches for scaling talent. 

3 Funding for Innovation: There is a broad range of financing options available to social innovators in Africa, depending on whether they operate for-profit, nonprofit or hybrid organisations. These financing options range from fee-for-service and cross subsidisation to externally generated funds such as grants, awards, fellowships, challenge funds, crowdfunding, impact investments and loans. In addition, the funding landscape, especially for impact investments, has expanded dramatically over the past 10 years, with cities such as Nairobi hosting more than 60 impact investment funds and other investment vehicles, where only a few existed 15 years ago. In-spite of the plethora of funds, most local social innovators struggle to obtain financing for their ventures, while funders complain that they cannot find initiatives that are investment ready. Indeed, external funders are only interested in engaging with organisations that have strong credibility, governance structures, financial management systems and controls and can demonstrate the ability to use the funds to achieve results.

Social innovators operating in Africa have obtained financing work diligently to establish and communicate a strong business case and theory of change, backed by sound data that establishes a clear need and sustainable demand. They also amplify their impact work through creative communication strategies to raise broad-based awareness and effectively differentiate themselves. In addition, they demonstrate strong transparent systems and structures, a culture of ethics and accountability, attractive return on investment ratios and exit options for impact investors, where applicable.

4 Partnerships with key stakeholders in the public, private and nonprofit sectors: Social innovators cannot achieve impact and scale without cross-sector collaborations, rooted in shared values and a desire to achieve collective impact. This is especially relevant in highly regulated sectors such as health and education.

Sadly, there are few examples of partnerships in the African context, largely linked to significant distrust among actors, the intense competition for the perceived ‘small pie’ of resources and support structures and the fear of giving up control. Partnerships are also challenging in an environment where there is a high level of bureaucracy and red tape within government institutions which ordinarily should serve as catalysts for collaborations and innovations. In reality, social innovators who successfully collaborate in this context, actively map the ‘ecosystem’, determining which stakeholders can serve as champions, opponents or even beneficiaries. They then develop strategies for interfacing with all key actors, proactively shaping their ecosystems and forming strategic cross-sector collaborations that foster impact and scaling.

Preparing for The future

With Africa’s population projected to grow to 2.4 billion by 2050 – more than 70% under the age of 30 years old, with 60% in cities and towns – there is an increasing need for the emergence of more social innovators, operating at scale. These individuals will essentially need to develop creative and innovative solutions in education, healthcare, employment, sanitation, security, electricity, transportation, and housing to meet the needs of the people.

The social innovators will need also need critical leadership and management skills, as well as the talent, financing and partnerships required to surmount the obstacles they will face to pilot and scale interventions.

Indeed, Business Schools in Africa and around the globe will have to play a critical role in preparing this next generation of social entrepreneurs and innovators. 

The Bertha Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at the University of Cape Town is just one example of the numerous institutions in Africa and across the globe that are working to inspire, empower, and equip the social innovators.

I am convinced that the ability of more social innovators to pilot, establish and scale their initiatives to solve Africa’s most pressing problems will transform the continent and continue to ensure that Africa progresses from the last frontier to the brightest continent over the next decade.

Ndidi Okonkwo Nwuneli, Harvard MBA 1999; Wharton Undergrad 1995 is a serial social entrepreneur based in Lagos Nigeria. She is the founder of LEAP Africa – www.leapafrica.org, co-founder of AACE Foods Processing & Distribution Ltd. – www.aacefoods.com and co-founder of Sahel Consulting & Advisory Ltd – www.sahelcp.com. She is the author of – Social Innovation in Africa: A Practical Guide for Scaling Impact, published by Routledge in 2016.

Broadening students’ cultural experience

Josep Franch, Dean of ESADE Business School, Barcelona, discusses current differences between Spanish Business Schools and those in Latin America and the opportunities for Latin American Schools to attract more international students. Interview by Andrew Main Wilson

Considering the landscape of the top Spanish Business Schools compared to Latin America, what are your main observations of the differences and the similarities?

I would say that European Business Schools in general, and Spanish Schools in particular, have made significant improvements over the past 10 to 15 years. 

If you take, for example, the Financial Times Global MBA Ranking, in 2000 it was made up of 80% US Schools and 20% European Schools. If you consider the same ranking today, you’ll find 40% US schools, one third European Schools and 20% Asian Schools. 

This improvement didn’t come overnight. It started in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when European Schools began to internationalise. They started to change their reputation to attract international students and faculty. This happened 25-30 years ago and, as a result, the majority of European Schools today are probably at the forefront of internationalisation. 

When I consider Latin America, I still see it as regionally based, attracting regional talent, whereas at the majority of European Business Schools – and in the case of top Spanish Schools – we’re attracting students from all over the world in our MBA. 

We have 30% of students coming from Latin America, 30% from Asia, 25% from Europe and 15% from North America, so it’s a broad profile.

What do you think Latin American Business Schools need to do to attract more students from Spain and Portugal? 

Spain has, traditionally, been seen as the gateway to Europe for many Latin American Schools and countries. But at the same time [as a Latin American School] you need a focus on quality. 

International accreditations are the first step, but you also need to establish your brand. This can be done through publications of your key faculty who can produce and publish research in top journals. 

You need also to be relevant in the corporate world. Here, I believe Latin America has a great opportunity, with corporates coming from the regions expanding abroad. A number of [global multinationals] are seeing opportunities in Latin America. 

At ESADE, some students from Europe or Asia take our MBA because they see it as a gateway to Latin America. 

In a global world, there are lots of opportunities, but [success] doesn’t come overnight. It’s based on years of investment, publications, visiting companies, attracting people and placing graduates in
those companies. 

At the end of the day, your graduates and alumni are your best ambassadors. 

Do you think blended and online learning this will be the next step for Schools in Latin America, and will it be a struggle, in terms of investment? 

We’re all facing the same huge challenge. But, at the same time, it’s a huge opportunity. You can develop e-learning programmes anytime and anywhere, so the online revolution allows physical boundaries to disappear. I don’t see a difference between Latin American Business Schools and Schools in other parts of the world, in the sense that blended programmes are not a choice. A blended solution is something you need. It’s a percentage of your curriculum, but all programmes have to be blended. Fully-online degrees are a different issue. Schools across the world are discussing the next steps. How fast they’ll be able to go depends on how many resources they have and how fast a School moves. 

It also depends on how many risks they’re willing to take, because those that move first will bear the greatest risk. Other Schools will be playing the safe route of jumping on the bandwagon, but they’ll not be the first mover. In saying that, top Latin American Schools are coping well with, and addressing this challenge. 

You have partnerships with Schools in Chile, Colombia and Peru. What advice would you give Latin American Schools in building partnerships in Europe? 

We have a joint multinational MBA with Adolfo Ibáñez University in Santiago, Chile, and a double degree with Fundacao Getulio Vargas EAESP in Sao Paulo, Brazil. We are working with Universidad de los Andes in Colombia and Universidad del Pacifico in Peru. In Rio de Janeiro, we’re working with Fundacao Getulio Vargas on some executive education programmes. We’re working with some other universities in the region as well. 

I believe these partnerships are going to grow because they allow Business Schools to combine resources, areas of expertise and the footprint of the different partners in the same programmes. 

Partnerships also allow Schools to launch programmes that maybe they wouldn’t have launched on their own because of [limitations in terms of] size, capability, or lack of influence that they have in a
certain market. 

These partnerships are a good thing, but Business Schools have to be able to find a suitable partner. To me, one of the most important things is that you share the same approach and philosophy. A partnership is like a marriage. When you’re dating, you need to know the person and share
some things. Partnerships based on economic or financial factors are probably not the best partnerships, if you don’t share a vision, values, or if you don’t have the same ideas in terms of the programme and the education proposal for the Business community. 

What would you advise our Schools to do to encourage more Spanish and Portuguese-speaking European students to come and experience a Latin American School? 

Students have different ideas and motivations to go on exchange programmes. I’ve found very often that we might have Spanish students who prioritise going to the US or Asia because they see them as ‘cool’ destinations, rather than opting to go to Latin America. 

Sometimes, students assume – mistakenly in my opinion – that in the majority of Latin American countries, because the same language is spoken there, they cannot improve in a second language, but they can if they go to the US or another destination. 

It’s not just about the language, but also the cultural experience. If we share the same language or similar language, students can still learn different ways of doing business compared to Spain in terms of how international markets are evolving. There are fast-growing markets in Latin America with lots of opportunities. 

Some students want to go to Latin America because they want to pursue an international career and want to spend some years in that region because they will have lots of opportunities to develop themselves. We [as Business School leaders] need to keep insisting that there are plenty of opportunities [in Latin America] that students are failing to identify because they’re looking for the big names of American universities, that are attracting them to a place – rather than what they can learn.  

Josep Franch, Dean of ESADE Business School

Josep Franch has extensive teaching experience in various countries. He is an expert in international marketing and global marketing, and his main area of specialisation is brand management in multinational and global companies. He has also worked on subjects related to digital marketing and relationship marketing. 

From an educational point of view, he is one of the main European experts in the case study method. He has published more than 50 case studies in the fields of marketing and international business, some of which are available through the The Case Centre (formerly the European Case Clearing House). 

He has won the EFMD Case Writing Competition on three occasions (1999, 2001 and 2013) and also has three case writing awards at the North American Case Research Association (NACRA) Annual Conference (2004, 2010 and 2015). He regularly serves as a track chair in several case conferences and as a reviewer for different case journals and case collections, he sits on the Editorial Board of the Case Research Journal and Wine Business Case Research Journal and is one of the Co-Editors of the
Global Jesuit Case Series. He regularly delivers sessions on how to write and teach with case studies, both at
ESADE as well as for other programmes including the International Teachers Programme (ITP).

He has previous experience as marketing manager at Fuji Film and has worked as a consultant for different companies, including FC Barcelona, Interroll, Novartis, Soler & Palau, Sony and Xerox. 

He has also worked in many in-company training programmes with different companies including APM Terminals, Bunge, Desigual, Esteve, Novartis, Roca, Roland DG, Saint-Gobain, Sony, Telefónica and Tenaris.

Exploring the principles and value of strategic corporate social responsibility

Business Schools must play their role in developing business leaders who are responsible and ethical, argues Debbie Haski-Leventhal, Author of Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility, in an interview with David Woods-Hale

The global leadership responsibility imperative has firmly moved corporate social responsibility (CSR) to the forefront of the management agenda. Why is now the right time for you to launch your book Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility

My book captures (and is designed to help lead) a major shift that is currently taking place. CSR has been here for a few decades, but there has been a lot of focus on corporate philanthropy and a narrow way of seeing CSR, not to mention ‘greenwashing’ [a form of spin in which PR or marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that an organisation is environmentally friendly]. 

The focus has also been on how CSR serves business and shareholders, which is important, but it cannot continue to be the only reason to be more responsible. 

The book emphasises the importance of strategic CSR, which is holistic and comprehensive, about being responsible in everything that we do, including core operations, and with everyone with whom we do business (namely all our stakeholders). It also incorporates a long-term approach instead of a short-term one. CSR cannot continue to be little more than a side show focusing on charity. 

We face tremendous global challenges and business can play a vital role in helping address them through the power of strategic CSR. 

How would you define strategic CSR? 

I have used this definition of strategic CSR by Chandler: ‘The incorporation of an holistic CSR perspective within a firm’s strategic planning and core operations so that the firm is managed in the interest of a broad set of stakeholders to achieve maximum economic and social value over the medium to long term.’ This definition offers a broader view of corporate responsibility, one that is embedded in everything the firm does – from its strategic planning and core operations.

I also see strategic CSR as CSR that is aligned with what the company stands for and what it does best. Instead of ‘random acts of charity’, the company uses its knowledge, resources and capital to make a real difference. The only thing I would change in this definition is ‘maximum economic value’–  maximising profit and growth at any cost is no longer viable. We can make profit, but not maximise profit at the expense of humanity and this planet. 

Do you think sufficient numbers of business leaders around the world are putting CSR into their strategic agendas? 

The business sector is like a huge ship moving slowly in the ocean. It is now shifting direction, but due to its size, it is not always easy to see. If we don’t shift – we will hit the iceberg. I strived in my book to focus on positive examples of corporate responsibility instead of on the more visible corporate social irresponsibility  –  not because I am naïve, but because I wanted the book to inspire others to follow these good examples. 

As such, I focus on inspirational leaders, such as Paul Polman of Unilever, who, with his sustainable living plan, has shifted the entire focus of the company to sustainability, and leaders such as Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo, who leads performance with purpose. There is a shift: CSR is becoming an important part of the strategic agenda for many companies, instead of a charitable sideshow. Is it enough? Not just yet, but we are getting there. 

CSR was previously considered something that could impact the bottom line if done properly. Do we need to move away from this and think strategically, yet altruistically, when it comes to CSR? 

I am glad that CSR helps to impact the financial bottom line. It means that people care about these issues more than ever before when they buy from a company as consumers or work for it as employees. Research shows a strong relationship between being genuinely responsible and employee engagement and performance. Having said that, companies shouldn’t only lead CSR for this purpose. 

There is a ‘catch 22’ here – if you only do good things to achieve employee engagement and consumer loyalty – it doesn’t work. Consumers, employees and other stakeholders can usually tell, even if not immediately, that CSR is not genuine. Usually, there will be some unethical behaviour involved. And greenwashing will lead not only to lack to trust in the company, but to lack of trust in CSR in general.

There is nothing worse than being unethical about your ethical behaviour.

So yes – you need to think strategically about CSR, work hard for real stakeholder integration, avoid shortcuts and above all – be genuine.

Do you feel enough is being done to embed the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) into business strategy? 

The SDGs are so important, not only because they aim to achieve remarkable goals, such as ending poverty and hunger by 2030, but also because they offer a great opportunity for humans to discuss what is important for us as a race and how we can achieve it together. The SDGs present an enormous task and challenge, and therefore require global and cross-sectorial collaboration like never before. 

As I wrote in the European Financial Review, this is not only a challenge for business, but also a great opportunity to align strategy with something that matters to everyone. I see large multinational companies, as well as smaller ones, that choose to focus on several SDGs and take amazing and innovative actions to help achieve them.

There is work to be done to get more companies and stakeholders on board, but I have never seen so many companies aligned around shared goals as in the case of the SDGs. 

What are some of the best ways to implement CSR strategies into an organisation, so employees take these initiatives on board, and so stakeholders, in turn, can see the organisation is making a difference?

If a company wants to adopt strategic CSR, it must integrate and involve all its stakeholders to do so. First, because it is an enormous task, and second, due to the definition and nature of strategic CSR. By definition, it requires working with a broad set of stakeholders and for CSR to be embedded in everything that we do – and you cannot do this with the executive leadership alone. 

There are great ways to involve employees, consumers, shareholders and all other stakeholders in the company’s strategic CSR. Employees can be involved in corporate volunteering and sustainability, but they can also lead the strategic direction of the company’s CSR. In my book, I discuss employee-led CSR and provide some great examples of it. Companies involve their consumers, who show higher levels of consumer social responsibility than ever before, in their giving, volunteering and sustainable development.

You cannot do it alone, you shouldn’t do it alone, and involving your stakeholders is the only way to achieve holistic responsibility in everything that you do. 

Should an organisation market its CSR? If so, how can it do it in a way that is ethical? 

That’s a great question and the reason why I have included an entire chapter on CSR marketing. It was important for me to offer a book that outlines the theories, concepts and models on the one hand, but also the practical tools of CSR on the other. I did not see a chapter on CSR marketing in other CSR books, and decided to write one. 

The chapter focuses on three aspects of CSR marketing: should we PR our CSR, ethical marketing, and social marketing. To answer your question – yes, we should market our CSR, because it is a good way to communicate with our stakeholders, inspire others and be held accountable for what we are doing. BUT – and this is a big ‘but’ – companies should only do it if their CSR efforts are holistic and genuine.

I give examples in the book of companies that were not genuine and holistic, and how CSR marketing backfired. It doesn’t mean that the company needs to be perfect – I don’t know a perfect company – but CSR needs to be holistic. You cannot do harm to people’s health and the planet in your core business and then market your corporate volunteering or company’s giving. It doesn’t work. 

How would you define a responsible leader and what are the challenges they are facing today?

I don’t think we can talk about strategic CSR, let alone achieve it, without responsible leadership. I discuss concepts such as responsible, ethical, sustainable, servant, conscious, and transformational leadership in the book, as each of these concepts bring another important aspect of responsible leadership. 

At the end of the chapter, I offer an holistic definition of responsible leaders that aligns with the one of strategic CSR: ‘People (in any position) with a strong purpose and a vision to better humanity, who incorporate an holistic CSR perspective within a firm’s strategic planning and core operations, work to meet the interests of a broad set of stakeholders, and strive to achieve maximum economic and social value over the medium to long term. 

‘They do so based on a strong purpose and values, while being true to the self and with the aim to serve others. They share the leadership with others in the organisation in order to achieve these goals.’ This definition also emphasises that responsible leadership doesn’t have to come from the top – any employee can help lead social responsibility. 

How important is it to measure the impact of CSR, and what are some of the best and innovative ways in which this can be done?

It is extremely important to measure the impact of CSR for several reasons. It provides constant benchmarking which can help the company improve its CSR; it increases accountability; it helps to communicate with and involve all stakeholders; and it assists in setting clear goals. Social impact assessment (which is processes of analysing, monitoring and managing the intended and unintended social consequences) also provides vital information that allows a company to assess the effectiveness and efficiency of its CSR compared to other companies; what it has done in the past and to what it could do in the future. 

It therefore creates a pathway for improvement and a strong impact in the future. There are many ways of assessing social impact, from the basic logic model to social return on investment. What is important is to measure outputs and impact, not only inputs and outcomes, which is what most companies still do. 

You reference management guru Peter Drucker in your writing. He said that in every social issue there is an opportunity. Do you believe there is an imperative for Business Schools to address societal problems? 

Absolutely! As the shift is taking place in the business sector, the attention is also drawn to Business Schools and their role in developing business leaders who are responsible and ethical. There is a great opportunity for Business Schools to rise to the occasion and use their own resources, talent and capital to make a difference. 

I have been conducting international studies together with the UN Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME), and the voice of millennial students all around the world is very clear: they expect their Schools to deliver responsible management education and to help them lead responsible businesses. 

I see Business Schools that are doing amazing things – from assisting refugees to helping to end poverty, and a genuine shift in mindset, leadership and curriculum. Analysing the mission statements of the Financial Times top 100 Business Schools, I found that 70% of them frame their mission around responsibility and impact. It is a great time to be an educator and a leader in this field. 

Do you think MBAs have taken more of an interest in using their skills to create a more sustainable world over the past few years? 

I don’t think so, I know so. These studies I have been doing with PRME on MBA students around the world demonstrate that the new generation of business students is very different to those that came before. There are many studies from the 1990s and 2000s showing business students to be less ethical and more corruptible than other students and that business education only made them more unethical. But this has changed. Our studies, and others, show that business students now care very much about sustainability and CSR and expect their Business Schools to deliver on this. 

These studies received a lot of attention from the general media, and were mentioned by the New York Times, because they deliver a clear and different voice of the students. One of the most interesting findings was that one in five business students were willing to sacrifice 40% or more of their future salary to work for an employer exhibiting all aspects of CSR. I am very optimistic about the future of our world when I see what MBA students care about. I don’t think we should leave our problems to the next generation, but I know it will be a much better generation of business leaders than previous and current ones. 

Debbie Haski-Leventhal is an Associate Professor of Management at Macquarie Graduate School of Management (MGSM), the Faculty Leader of Corporate Citizenship and the Director of Master of Social Entrepreneurship. As a scholar of CSR, Debbie initiated and led the MGSM CSR Partnership Network. Together with PRME, she conducts international studies on MBA students and their attitudes towards CSR and responsible management education. She has published over 100 papers on CSR, responsible management education and volunteerism, including more than 40 peer-reviewed articles in highly-ranked journals. Her book on Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility with a foreword by David Cooperrider was published in March 2018 by SAGE.

Debbie is presenting a live BGA webinar on ‘The role of Business Schools in society – the movement towards purpose and responsibility’ on 6 February 2019. Click here for more information and to take part.

A strategy for Business School internationalisation

High-performing international Business Schools take a strategic approach to internationalisation. Simon Mercado and Julie Perrin-Halot introduce seven shared attributes that underpin their success

In an increasingly globalised market, the world’s top Business Schools are taking a strategic approach to internationalisation by developing goals and actions designed to advance their institutional brands and missions. While the context and character of these strategies and their deployment differ, the Schools we will refer to as ‘high-performing international Business Schools’ possess some shared attributes largely responsible for enabling their strategies. 

Before exploring these attributes, let’s look at some of the different manifestations of internationalisation that are emerging across the Business School landscape. 

Directions and manifestations

First, internationalisation strategies are generally directed towards a combination of goals. The recent EAIE Barometer Study indicates that preparing students for a globalised world, improving the quality of education and research, and enhancing institutional competiveness stand out as the most-commonly cited. 

Second, internationalisation strategies within the Business School world tend to be fairly holistic. Not all Schools are pursuing comprehensive internationalisation strategies – where internationalisation efforts are maximised and integrated across all domains of the institution’s work – but most are framing strategies that are fairly broad in their nature. 

International accreditations are likely to promote breadth and depth in internationalisation and to promote international quality standards in teaching and research. Business School leaders tend also to see the scope for and benefits of internationalisation across different domains and the tendency for progress in one area to support progress in another. 

A strong and continued focus on student mobility and recruitment sits at the heart of most institutional strategies but other priorities around faculty diversity and mobility, research, and curriculum internationalisation also tend to shape institutional action. Many Schools are seeking to integrate a digital approach and are looking at digital platform strategies.

Third, Business School internationalisation has become synonymous with Business School mobility and cross-border operations. Notwithstanding the popularity of e-business strategies, we see evidence of large-scale investments by Business Schools outside of their home market either through direct investment (campuses and representative offices) or through strategic partnerships that function to facilitate the delivery of programmes at offshore locations. 

These can range from short executive education formats to longer degree-granting provisions. They involve arrangements based on hosting, delegation and franchise, sometimes in combination with digital strategies. This exportation of capabilities and/or programmes tends to be one of the distinguishing factors for the most aggressively international Schools. In the Financial Times 2018listing of the world’s Top 30 European Business Schools, six (or 20%) are identified as multi-locational, including the likes of INSEAD and ESCP Europe. 

Internationalisation, like any business process, requires a series of judgements. Even if the orthodoxy is for Business Schools to take an holistic approach to internationalisation, there is still ample scope to pursue a strategy of focused differentiation driven by institutional mission and vision. 

Some Business Schools have sought to build their brands and identities around a particular reputation for research or programme excellence. Some have emerged as international specialists in such fields as entrepreneurship, leadership development, or digital learning. Equally, internationalisation as an evolutionary and often stage-based process does not mean that Business Schools should move at one pace or at an accelerated one. 

Indeed, many Business Schools have regretted their haste in major investments abroad and/or in striking international partnerships without mission consonance or due diligence. Finally, strategic partnerships and networks have become central to the internationalisation project and mission, supporting the quality focus, breadth and dynamism we see as characterising Business School internationalisation as a phenomenon.

From trends to attributes

Whatever the differences in the substance of what they do or in the pace and sequence of internationalisation efforts, Schools are reliant upon a number of attributes that ensure the conception, development and sustainability of their internationalisation strategies. 

If we isolate the case of high-performing international Business Schools (HPIBS) and look at their DNA, we identify seven key attributes, which we bring together in our 7-C framework:

1. Clarity 

This first attribute provides the cornerstone for successful international development, regardless of its form or scale. The ‘why‘
that guides these developmental imperatives is addressed in the mission and vision of
these high-performing Schools therefore enabling a clear and coherent framework for decision-making and resource-allocation processes. Explicit alignment with the
School’s identity and positioning is fundamental for legitimacy and support from both internal and external stakeholders. 

While the mission and vision drive internationalisation, a well-articulated strategy provides the road map. The clarity of that strategy and the shared narrative it engenders within the institution are key factors of success. 

2. Capital 

HPIBS’ performance and competitiveness is significantly influenced by intangible assets or ‘intellectual capital’. Critical here are expert knowledge and competencies (human capital), the firm’s internal organisation and innovation systems (structural capital), and its ability to engage with and work with key stakeholders (relational capital). This resource-based view of the Business School clearly highlights organisational theory, which draws attention to the nature of intangible resources and co-ordination within the organisation. Clearly, it is unimaginable that an HPIBS exhibiting research leadership or research excellence could occupy such a position without the intellectual capital of its faculty. However, that capital is unlikely to be sufficient in itself without an organisational ability and propensity to both foster and exploit that intellectual capacity. 

The leading international Business Schools also enjoy brand or reputational capital, which emerges as a result of their contribution and impact. This is generally manifest in high levels of brand recognition, strong rankings placement, and/or accreditations. All of these may be seen as a proxy measure of quality
but the industry attaches huge significance
to these yardsticks. 

3. Configuration 

HPIBS are not simply competing internationally but are configured internationally. They have assets, networks and operations that extend beyond their domestic market. Configuration issues concern where in the world each activity in the value chain (e.g. marketing and programme delivery) is performed, and
where human and physical assets are
located and linked. 

Unlike the domestic Business School, this value chain has an international quality with some degree of geographic dispersal of both assets and activity. Linked to this are management-control and co-ordination issues concerning the co-ordination of each activity when it is done in more than one place. This means that they must have management models and structures in place to support and execute an advanced internationalisation strategy. Some HPIBS have opted to configure as multi-campus networks, others more as
hub-and-spoke operations. Some have attached international partners to their organisation to deliver their programmes without internalising specific offshore activities. The bottom line however is that these Schools are set up internationally (they are not merely selling their courses into an international marketplace) and this is supporting their mission and progress. 

4. Connections 

Configuration issues relate closely to the partnership models that Business Schools put in place to support and execute their strategies. The literature on internationalisation highlights the extent and benefits of international partnering with fellow Schools, delivery partners, agents, and business firms. The continuing priorities of Business Schools are such that partnerships are typically at the core of the internationalisation process. HPIBS typically take a strategic approach to partnership development and management. They build and develop strong partner networks that have a bilateral and multilateral dimension. Productive links with other Schools (for exchange of students, research and double/joint diplomas) are balanced by strategic engagements in multi-party networks and special interest groups linked closely to operational regions and strategic priorities. 

5. Culture

HPIBS also have an organisational culture that drives and supports internationalisation. This is rooted in the values, beliefs, and assumptions held by organisational members, including its leaders. What is at issue here is the value set of the institution and their organisational climate. Most profess a strong desire to prepare global leaders or to influence global business. Most promote, celebrate and harness diversity. This is manifest in mission and value statements. This desire must be matched however by effective organisational processes that support the international aspect or focus of the mission. In essence, HPIBS are underpinned by an international culture that is evident in their people, beliefs, and ways of working. Sometimes attached to this are artefacts and symbols that reflect that international identity and aspiration. 

In the case of ESCP Europe, an advanced model of internationalisation is reflected not simply in a multi-campus structure and rotational degree programming, but also in an international leadership team and the existence of pan-European institutes and departments. These are a product of a culture rooted in European identity and the values of diversity and plurality.

6. Community 

HPIBS invest strongly in community. These Schools both nurture and leverage a wide variety of stakeholders ranging from students to alumni to corporate partners to diplomatic connections. They bring these stakeholders together around a strong sense of identity and purpose and they do so at the international level not purely in their domestic arena. International community groups, alumni chapters and high geographic dispersal rates for graduates are typical traits. For example, Grenoble Ecole de Management (GEM) organises an Alumni Leaders’ Summit each year, pulling in alumni from all corners of the globe to discuss current affairs at GEM and to monitor how the programmes continue to impact even years after graduation. 

The importance of this attribute lies in its very capacity to serve both a prospective and a safety function for an institution seeking to deploy internationally. Through its ‘community’, and a balance of use of and reward for this community, a School develops its networks exponentially and its capacity outside of its home market. 

7. Curriculum 

Schools wishing to internationalise fully must also be prepared to drill down into programme content and ensure the range of skills and knowledge that will serve as enablers for graduates to develop personally and professionally in a globalised world. Student satisfaction is increasingly related to the international toolkit they are provided with over the course of their studies. This kit is composed of content (intercultural theory, international case studies, global perspectives), exposure (multinational classrooms, language tuition, foreign faculty) and experience (curriculum-based study aboard, international internships and projects, study trips and industry visits). 

If HPIBS are associated with these seven attributes, what is clear is that they have not all emerged quickly or easily. Becoming international in process terms and/or as a stamp of international quality or standing is not quick or easy. 

Business School leaders and teams should make choices that are realistic and mission-driven. Lessons can be learned from HPIBS but not all Schools are destined to replicate their models or strategies.

Professor Simon Mercado is Campus
Dean/Director for ESCP Europe
Business School, London.
Julie Perrin-Halot is Associate Dean/Director of Quality and Strategic Planning Grenoble Ecole de Management.

Nurturing a vibrant research culture

Business Schools face a range of challenges in developing faculty members that benefit both the staff and the School. Frederik Anseel and Suzanne Marcuzzi consider how a culture of research can impact attraction and retention 

Do you want to know the truth? You can’t handle the truth!’ In the famous interrogation scene in the hit film A Few Good Men, Col Jessup (played by Jack Nicholson) paints himself as the last line of defence, allowing citizens to live their lives, rise and sleep under a protective blanket of freedom.

This quote encapsulates how we sometimes see our role in leading the research activities at King’s Business School, Kings College London. 

There is a harsh world out there, with tight budgets; students with high expectations; and increasingly competitive ranking systems. We try to sheild our faculty from this truth as much as possible, so they can pursue their research undisturbed and in complete freedom. 

For us, while the external factors matter, high-quality research matters just as much. 


At the heart of this ideal is our vision of academic research: we have an authentic and deep-lived conviction that is it the intellectual curiosity and intrinsic motivation of researchers that drive scientific progress. The people make the place. 

For us, all the rest – attraction and retention, grant income, publications, citations, business impact – flows from this central principle; a principle that needs to be nurtured, protected and prioritised. 

Most scholars have chosen this career because they aspire to make important contributions to our collective understanding of organisations. This is typically also the reason why they have joined us and why they stay at King’s Business School. And it is the fundament of our research policy: for academics to have the intellectual freedom to pursue their ideas to contribute to – or change – the conversation in their domain. It is the very essence of what we do and it cannot be compromised. 

We are not naive in pursuing this. Our research policies have to accommodate diverging perspectives and to recognise the many pressures that our academics face. On the following pages, we describe how we manage trade-offs and try to develop and maintain a vibrant research culture.

A different type of Business School

Starting a new Business School provides a unique-but-challenging opportunity. While we build upon the strong legacy of the Department of Management and Business at King’s, and while there is a lot enthusiasm around us, we have had to think carefully about our positioning. 

Business and society have undergone profound disruptions, transforming the way we live, work, consume and learn. There is heightened scrutiny of business and societal ethics with consequences for data privacy and security, people management and stakeholder engagement. As a new Business School, we aim to respond to these societal shifts through research.

We aim to address complex problems with fresh perspectives and innovative collaborations that transcend traditional academic boundaries and that employ data in novel ways. 

Embeddedness in the university

King’s Business School is part of King’s College London, one of the oldest universities in the UK and part of the Russell Group of leading research universities. 

While the Business School is a separate faculty, we seek to maintain strong links with the eight other faculty at King’s and to benefit from and contribute to the strong research tradition at King’s. 

These are not mere words. King’s College lives and breathes research. When you walk through London’s city centre, you pass King’s College London buildings with posters of Nobel Prize winners and world-famous researchers. Informal conversations with colleagues from other faculties typically turn towards research interests and the unintended benefits of casual conversations with colleagues from outside your own discipline cannot be underestimated.

Many leading collaborations arise from a chance encounter. 

Faculty and university leaders are all established researchers who stay research-active throughout their leadership mandates. The university research culture is so fundamental that nearly all academic
staff, including our teaching fellows, have doctoral qualifications. 

Within the Business School, we cherish the multi-disciplinary foundations of King’s. When hiring, we often pay specific attention to the backgrounds of candidates and their potential links with other disciplines in our university. We encourage our staff to join multi-disciplinary networks within the university and apply for internal grants in cross-faculty teams.

Research quality

The Business School research landscape is dominated by publications in a small set of elite economics and management journals. We do not believe it would create a healthy research climate to tie direct monetary incentives to such publications. Sometimes excellent research contributions are best served by being published in niche journals and given our multi-disciplinary foundations, we encourage staff also to publish their work in disciplinary journals in psychology, sociology, and other social sciences. 

Of course, we do encourage our staff to pursue excellence in research and to push the frontiers of knowledge, and this often happens in those top journals. Publishing in well-respected journals is not easy. In 2014, US-based academics Christian Terwiesch and Karl Ulrich, estimated that an A-journal publication equates to about $400,000USD of investment in faculty time and research support. 

However, because of the visibility and impact, we value and encourage research published in leading journals and we support our staff to pursue research suitable for publication in this elite set.

Establishing an international reputation of research excellence requires that we embed this focus on conducting world-class research early on in PhD programmes and emphasise this consistently in our research policies, performance management and hiring practices.

We maintain a system with low teaching loads when compared to international benchmarks and focus on quality of publications over quantity. Research into scholarly impact in the strategy field has shown that those who write fewer but high-quality papers earlier in their careers go on to write fewer but high-quality papers later in their careers as well. Research groups organise meetings to discuss manuscript development and help those conducting early career research navigate the sometimes very lengthy revision process. Most of our senior staff hold editor and editorial board appointments at leading journals, which helps us to mentor junior staff and to establish a culture of research excellence. 

We’re also always seeking new ways to enrich our research culture. We have established a Distinguished Visiting Professor programme to bring leading international researchers to King’s Business School for short visits to help build international research networks and to ensure we’re always engaging with fresh perspectives. 

Research with impact

Our goal is to create an environment in which responsible research can thrive. We encourage our staff to produce credible and reliable knowledge which can be used to address, either directly or indirectly, problems of importance to both business and society. This isn’t just about rigorous and relevant research. We aim for academic research that allows for actionable knowledge – ‘science you can use’. It is research that provokes further reading, sharing, discussion, experimentation, and use in practice, aiming ultimately to transform business and society. Our external engagement team actively approaches staff to distil the actionable knowledge from fundamental research and to take initiatives that bring us closer to the business community. 

This sort of connected research takes time and energy. We have introduced a policy that reduces teaching loads for staff members pursuing projects which have the potential to make a significant impact on business and society. We are also working towards greater connectivity with the business community, engaging with stakeholders early on in research projects to co-develop research questions and co-design studies. Our three research centres focus not only on world-leading research but business-driven research with impact. We are also developing a ‘thought-leadership’ seminar series for executives, in which an influential scholar presents research results highly relevant to a specific business community and asks for their input and feedback. This is also a way of continuing to build our networks: asking for advice is often a good way of stimulating interest and involvement. We’re now also encouraging our staff to publish more frequently in practice-orientated outlets such as Harvard Business Review and MIT Sloan Management Review

Research environment

We try to create an environment that supports researchers’ intrinsic motivation, but also provides them with a sense of direction and progress. Each of our subject groups is led by a head of group. The heads of group, along with other senior staff, shape the climate of the group by signalling and modelling specific priorities relative to other competing goals. They are closely involved in developing the strategic direction of the School, as well as setting specific goals for their groups. By coming up with a shared vision and strategy, we try to be consistent and explicit about what we value in the stories we tell, in the decisions we make, and in the achievements we celebrate. Given the strong internal research drive of academics, managing the environment is sometimes more about removing obstacles and making things easier. Key to effective research support is the reduction or removal of administrative burdens, straightforward access to financial resources (for example, personal research allowances and seed-funding schemes), a good research infrastructure and travel opportunities. 

Even more fundamental to our research environment are strong, supportive working relationships, an inclusive climate, clear role expectations, psychological safety, and closeness to partner organisations. 

We know our academic colleagues can ‘handle the truth’: they know the pressures facing modern universities. But we see it as our role to create space and time to allow staff to focus on one of the core reasons they’re here – and one of the main reasons they chose this career path: rigorous research which serves to educate, challenge and change. 

Federik Anseel is Professor of Organisational Behaviour and Vice
Dean of Research, and Suzanne Marcuzzi is Research Development Manager at King’s Business School.