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Agenda For Sustainability Education Is Very Much Student-driven: Dirk Matten, Schulich School of Business

Faculty that can actually actuate, initiate, inspire and engage people in sustainability

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On 16th November, during India and Sustainability Standards 2017 conference organised by Centre for Responsible Business, there was a session on 'Sustainability Education and Teaching for Academic Institutions', where the crucial need for an ongoing discussion for academic institutes on sustainability and the crucial need to integrate different elements of sustainable/responsible business across various topics of management curricula was highlighted. The session was co-hosted by UNPREME- United Nation's Principles for Responsible Management Education. 

In her welcome address, Ria Sinha, Research Fellow, CRB said, "We cannot ignore the pertinent role of academic institutions in the realm of sustainability, and the need for integrating sustainability/responsible business in the education curriculum".

Dr Bhaskar Chatterjee, Former DG and CEO, Indian Institute of Corporate Affairs (IICA), said in his keynote address, "Why has the teaching of sustainability become important? One could simply be because a sustainability was not a subject 10 years, ago but has emerged as a subject since then. It is being linked more and more to business. Why should we reach out to the youth? Do we have a faculty in place to teach it? Have we in India, prepared faculty.

Faculty that can actually actuate, initiate, inspire and engage people in sustainability. Are business schools actually doing faculty development in sustainability?". "If getting to students through faculty for sustainability is the modus operandi, then faculty is definitely key to moving this forward. Is sustainability cross-cutting? Can it seamlessly flow into the dialogue with students? The conceptualization of the transmission of how do we reach the students, the modalities, the think-through the outcomes and output. How do we arouse interest? Do we induce it, eject it or impose it?", added Chatterjee.

"In the international discourse, there are different labels for sustainability, some places it's corporate social responsibility, and in the US it started off as Business Ethics. It's about how business managers can make decisions which have a  business angle with a cost-benefit analysis, but also an ethical analysis", said Professor Dirk Matten, Hewlett-Packard Chair in Corporate Social Responsibility, Schulich School of Business, York University, in his special address. He also added, "There is a problem that business and management is a science that studies and teaches shareholder value maximization. As much progress we have made in introducing business ethics, the mainstream has still not been affected. The change factors about why this came into the agenda are dotcom bubble bursting in 2000/2001, Enron scandal and Financial Crisis in 2008.

Sumantra Ghoshal in 2003 sad that 'We as business school faculty- need to own up to our own role in creating Enrons. It is our theories and ideas that have done much to strengthen the management practices, we all are so loudly condemning.' The success factors of Schulich School of Business in introducing sustainability was support and buy-in of school leadership. If you get faculty interested in doing research in this area, they will be very happy to teach it". He also went on to add, "External funding always helps. The holy grail is to mainstream this topic, so it's a legitimate topic across the curriculum and the research agenda of the faculty. You have to look for allies on campus and other faculties. The agenda is very much student-driven. Student interest is what really drives the agenda, as the students have leverage in whatever the school does."

There was a panel discussion on sustainability integration, focusing on proven models/roadmaps of integration, challenges & lessons and gains from integration: the 'validated case' for integration. The panellists included Professor Deepa Krishnan, Adjunct Associate Professor, SPJIMR, Kalyan Bhaskar, Assistant Professor, Strategic Management, XLRI, Vineeta Dutta Roy, Associate Professor & Lead on CSR, BIMTECH and Dr SK Mishra, Joint Director & Head (RACB), NABET, Quality Council of India.

Professor Krishnan said, "Sustainability initiatives have been a way of life at our institutions. We are trying to produce an MBA who thinks about the India of tomorrow. Our belief is that we should not do it in the classroom. What we are doing at SPJIMR is immersive learning. You need leadership and vision to do this, not money". She also added, "Our program allows you to gain more knowledge than you give, and my students learn the financial and economic aspects of slum areas. Business school has to act like a business school and integrate sustainability and ethics deeply into its curriculum"

"My experience tells me that academic institutions are toying with different models, and there is no proven model. There are 2 choices, either have a sustainability-focused program or an MBA where sustainability is a part", said Kalyan Bhaskar. He also added, "Business schools have been perceived as glorified placement agencies. When it comes to placements, students ask me whether you are training me to be Chief Sustainability Officer or CEO? But it can be both. Business schools use case studies to show how companies have integrated sustainability in their business case, but we don't see that many examples from India"

Roy said, "Will the students opt for the course? Do we influence the behaviour of the students? What is the environment they should expect in the corporate when they go there for work? The ecosystem for our country and corporates has changed because of the CSR law. How do business schools respond to this? It's been a recent response". She also went on to add, "We understand humility, honesty, integrity may make you look weak, but only the strong can demonstrate it. In the business school scenario, students need to get it as a reinforcement that this is the way to look at it in the future. You influence their behaviour".

"We are on the national accreditation board of India. School education is the basic element to prosper in higher education. There are very important parameters we have to take into consideration to improve the education in the country. The kind of training we are providing to the teachers is not adequate. It is the right time to put the focus on how we can define the methodology of how we can train our teachers", said Mishra.

In the second half of the session, there was group work on possibilities and illustrations of integrating sustainability into business management- focusing on finance, marketing and Human Resources, with different groups taking up different subjects and then a short summary presentation from each group on the possible roadmaps/models for initiating and advancing sustainability integration and engagement ideas and the way forward, followed by the conclusion and the way forward.


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