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. 

Vision

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.

Mind the poverty gap: how the most progressive Business Schools in the world are trying to help close it

The best Business Schools are responding to the global poverty crisis by opening themselves up to helping those with fewer opportunities. Will Dawes reports on BGA’s exclusive new research into the topic

The United Nations reports that 783 million people live below the international poverty line of $1.90USD a day. This means that more than one in every 10 people on this planet struggle to access the most basic human needs such as clean water, healthcare and education. 

Many millions more live just above this ‘line’, struggling to make ends meet, but without hope of building a more prosperous future. 

For these individuals, upward social mobility is not a realistic aspiration. Instead, excessively poor working conditions and anxiety around surviving on their limited resources dictate their lives. They cannot afford to invest
money or time to obtain the skills they need to exploit opportunities that may arise, and even when they can, their local economy does not enable them to prosper. 

As a global Business School community, we should reach out beyond the walls of our institutions and address the most important issues facing our society, especially when these relate so closely to why we do business: to provide a living for ourselves and those around us in a global marketplace. 

The economy is not serving the poorest people, so Business Schools have a duty to understand how business can work for society and influence those who can implement management changes for the better. In this same respect, Business Schools have a duty to also train and teach those who cannot afford to enrol onto their programmes. 

The most progressive Business Schools are responding to this challenge by opening themselves up to helping those with fewer opportunities and researching ways in which doing business can help those with less. 

As part of BGA’s mission, we want to highlight how Business Schools around the world are working to alleviate poverty, conducting research that covers case studies of three Business Schools initially, and highlights their work – and its impact – to boost opportunities to some of the poorest in society. 

This work does not come without tangible challenges, such as financial capacity, the School’s scope of influence, and systematic barriers within the economy. But our case studies highlight the progress these projects have made in helping those who are disadvantaged work towards a more prosperous future.

This BGA research is just the start of the Business Graduates Association’s goal to understand the Business School’s contribution to society.

AMBA and CLADEA are conducting more research into how Business Schools address poverty in their teaching and faculties, both in terms of further case studies and through a short survey of Business School professionals and MBAs. If you would like to participate in this study get in touch with me (Will Dawes) regarding the work of your Business School (w.dawes@businessgraduatesassociation.com). 

Local community of social entrepreneurs

Ndileka Zantsi, Programme Co-ordinator at the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business (UCT GSB) outlines its work in the community to produce social entrepreneurs of the future.

The UCT GSB opened a new teaching and research site – the Solution Space Hub – in Philippi, an impoverished community, located in the heart of Cape Town, South Africa, in 2016. The hub is an ecosystem for early-stage startups and a research and development platform for corporates to experiment with emerging business models, with a tangible connection to the wider community. 

This year, the GSB Solution Space, in partnership with the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship, has incubated two cohorts of 10 entrepreneurs enrolled on the Impact Venture Incubation Programme (IVIP) for a three-month period to help them build viable and scalable innovation-driven companies. We emphasise social impact when selecting projects to support, ranging from personal and industry training to products and services, which are accessible and affordable to those in less affluent neighbourhoods in and around Cape Town. Examples of current projects of entrepreneurs enrolled onto the programme include initiatives setting up a low-cost open-air cinema; designing an intuitive learning app for secondary school children, and training young people to narrate and edit their own stories. 

The first month typically consists of exploring the customer base for the entrepreneur’s products or services, the second month is about developing the products or services to make them desirable to the consumer, and the third teaches the entrepreneur about making the products or services viable. After the three months, we provide post-programme support to ensure that entrepreneurs can continue to have access to a range of resources such as the co-working space, advisory services, practical learning clinics, weekly check-ins, staff advisors, and a community of peers who can learn and grow together. 

Programme facilitators include current MBA students and UCT GSB alumni who teach on a pro bono basis. 

The programme also pairs entrepreneurs with mentors, who are relevant industry experts, including our alumni. We have learnt from experience that the best time for the pairings is during months two or three. We are mindful of the entrepreneur’s background, and flexible around the timeframes for integrating entrepreneurs with their mentors.

In addition to providing education, advice and guidance, the programme also assists entrepreneurs with physical resources, where possible, to get their enterprise off the ground. This includes free access to a computer lab, office space, meeting rooms and a conferencing venue for running workshops or events. There have been substantial challenges we have had to overcome along the way, including issues we were not able to anticipate. Something we did not foresee was the emotional support we would need to
provide entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs here often experience tough situations in their personal lives, which, along with starting a business, can lead to mental health issues. 

As a programme, we did not have the means to provide this support, but have been able to reach out to the university’s psychology department which now provides the support and advice pro bono

We also provide food and transport for those entrepreneurs who may not have the financial means to afford these in order to attend the requisite sessions and spend time during the day interacting and learning from one another. This is something we did not budget for initially, but we deemed it necessary in order to guarantee the presence of the entrepreneurs for the
full three-month period.  

The benefits of the programme are wide-ranging. Perhaps most
importantly, it has made being an entrepreneur desirable for a lot more people in the community. 

It is seen as a pathway that is achievable, one in which people can be successful and do good for others in society. As such, it has increased the reputation of entrepreneurship. 

In the most recent cohort there were 61 applications for 15 spaces. But the areas of personal development are also significant. People have been able to develop transferable skills, scale their businesses, and provide employment for others in the community.

ESPAE’s academic research into how supply chains can be improved in Ecuadorian farming

Jorge Rodriguez, Assistant Professor at ESPAE Graduate School of Management, describes how his research into training smallholder farmers and urban micro-retailers about how they can operate more efficiently could benefit both low-income producers and consumers.

Companies across the globe want to increase sales in developing markets – including Ecuador and other countries in Latin America – but they face problems in doing this effectively due to high transaction costs, poor infrastructure and institutional voids such as appropriate financial systems. In Ecuador, for example, 80% of farmers are small scale. This means they often do not have the economies of scale to invest in efficient technology, are physically and digitally distant from both the manufacturers and consumers, and do not have access to the latest training methods to improve their production and distribution potential. 

As part of my research role at ESPAE, which focuses on CSR, sustainability and stakeholder management, I am evaluating how a particular education training programme, funded by the Ecuadorian Agriculture Ministry, can make a measurable difference to the ways in which low-production farmers distribute their profits. 

We are hoping that this training programme will benefit the farmers and their families. The research project tests whether the training programmes enhance farmers’ productivity and multi-dimensional poverty. The evaluation finds that training programmes enhance the productivity and reduce poverty of smallholder farmers, yet the scale of the programme is low. In this regard, the research informs policymakers on the appropriate mechanism to foster agricultural development.

The training covers a broad spectrum of issues, including informing farmers about ways in which they can overcome crop-yield problems, integrate better with suppliers and ensure they connect better and become more responsive to market demands. It is hard for these farmers to be better integrated into value chains, however, because they lack access to the formal economy, banking and medical services, education, and technology such as the internet or mobile phones. So, as a Business School, we see helping these farmers as a strategic priority. It is the right thing to do for these producers, who are currently on the fringes of economic innovation, yet are central to the workings of a large sector of the economy and low-income consumers. 

My research project does not come without substantial challenges. For example, I am unable to identify participating farmers, meaning that I need to control for areas which do and do not receive the training, rather than specific farms. 

There are also wider challenges around how we can get governments and firms to work better together to ensure that the training, if deemed successful, is rolled out more widely. As such, there are communication issues associated with ensuring that the findings of my
research are exposed to influential individuals, and that these findings are
acted on.

In this respect, as a Business School community, we require greater collaboration both in terms of how we explore and evaluate business solutions, and how we communicate our findings to legislators and the marketplace. 

Business Schools need to approach local media in order to shout about the importance of our findings. We need to engage local authorities, stakeholders, and invite firms to talk about the topic, in order to have further tangible impact. A central issue we have is that Business School staff are incentivised in terms of teaching objectives, faculty goals and
cohort intakes, but are not challenged enough to help and support organisations and people directly. 

The sector needs to rise to this by up-skilling academics to become mainstream communicators of their work. 

In the future, there also needs to be an increase in engagement between
professors and students on this topic, because together we can make an
impact around reducing poverty in our world. Farmers need to form co-operatives to consolidate its integration into value chains. Yet, there are few
people with administrative skills in rural areas. 

I think Business School can contribute to changing this reality. We can work
with students on live cases to enhance the administrative skills of farmers’ co-operatives, and rural organisations. 

Leadership and Management Programme for future leaders

Dr Ijeoma Nwagwu, Manager of the Sustainability Centre at Lagos Business School, talks about her School’s programme to enhance the management skills of future leaders working in NGOs.

I work as part of the management faculty in the areas of strategy and sustainability, so I am interested in engaging on topics of responsible management and economic development. I manage Lagos Business School’s Sustainability centre. 

The activity areas for the centre include research, capacity building and stakeholder engagement. Our activities focus on the themes of corporate sustainability (helping businesses become a force for good), social entrepreneurship and sustainable infrastructure. 

We deliver a leadership and management programme that we co-created with the Ford Foundation to develop a pipeline of young leaders. The programme aims to bring young leaders from the NGO and social enterprise ecosystem into the Business School to work out innovative ways to tackle poverty through their work. We enrol up to 100 leaders annually and they come from organisations that focus on a range of sustainable development issues such as gender, agriculture, health and children, and the environment. This programme focuses on equipping young leaders with practical knowledge of business fundamentals, social innovation and leadership effectiveness in an increasingly complex world.

The whole idea behind the programme is leadership development for young people in NGOs, who have an opportunity to put those skills into practice to advance impact in the social sector. Our purpose is to develop 100 leaders a year, providing them with a platform to hone their leadership skills through experiential learning and to develop networks with others in the space to facilitate peer-to-peer learning. I believe this engagement in the journey of learning to be invaluable, as at the heart of poverty is a lack of knowledge. 

The role of the Business School is to contribute to knowledge generation and community building on issues around poverty.

From the teaching perspective, we need to make sure that young leaders understand their roles and are appropriately equipped to solve social problems. On the research and documentation side, our faculty is developing a handbook on NGO leadership and management in Africa.

The scope of the Lagos Business School’s work reaches beyond this programme. We are beginning to make a substantial impact with our work. What we know is that more than 40% of local adults are operating outside the formal financial system with negative consequences in their ability to save, manage life’s shocks through insurance, debt and other modern financial services. Therefore, the School has run a project on sustainable and inclusive digital financial services which, through research and advocacy, supports the financial sector with the necessary knowledge to build financial products that mirror the life experience of the poor. The ultimate aim is to provide poor people with greater access to improved financial services so they can thrive.  

Although Business Schools can be seen as part of the establishment, we are not bound by stereotypes. Our vision of a Business School is one that is inclusive, that connects people from different sectors and backgrounds, to develop socially responsible leaders to solve the most pressing social and economic problems. 

The reality of our Business School is that we bring people together from a range of industries, linking them to learn and grow for a better society.