Going Global for Change
15 July 2015 at 10:55 am
Jetsetting NSW academic Debbie Haski-Leventhal of the Macquarie Graduate School of Management is travelling the world to contribute to global discussions on CSR. Following her recent trip to the UN in New York, she shares the latest trends with Pro Bono Australia News and how they might influence both research and practice in Australia.
On the morning she speaks, fresh from her trip to New York, Haski-Leventhal, the faculty leader of Global Citizenship at MGSM, is just five hours away from her next trip: one to Paris, for another conference.
Haski-Leventhal herself is a force in the Australian CSR space, founding the CSR Partnership Network, which aims to understand CSR in Australia, create significant social impact through shared learning and to increase public awareness of CSR issues.
Now her quest to build discussion around responsible business practice is going global.
Her trip to New York saw her attend and present at the UN PRME (Principles for Responsible Management Education) Global Forum and the UN Global Compact Forum, both of which she described as “remarkable.”
She also attended the UN General Assembly, where they celebrated 15 years of the UN Global Compact. Both Ban Ki Moon and Unilever CEO Paul Polman delivered rousing speeches about business as a global force for good.
Haski-Leventhal is effusive as she recounts her experiences – it is clear, she says, that the global business and education communities are moving in promising new directions.
A New Movement
Part of Haski-Leventhal’s trip was devoted to joining international discussion at the Prime Forum on emerging new CSR concept Business for Peace – a timely one, given the current climate of global conflict.
Haski-Leventhal has previously written on the subject, which is based on the idea that the corporate world, Governments and society have a shared interest in stability and prosperity and peace and development and that business can be a powerful agent of change.
Conflict and instability are considered to not only impact people and the environment; but also the private sector.
Haski-Leventhal says Business for Peace’s booming popularity and its significance for real-world practice was clear.
“It’s really interesting to see the growing interest in this movement,” she says.
“I first attended a session on business for peace in Rio+20 a few years ago in Rio de Janeiro. There were about 35 people in the room, and most of the speakers spoke about business in conflict, and not about Business for Peace. But this time, the day they spent on Business for Peace, attracted 300 people – mainly business people but also educators and researchers.”
At the forum, Haski-Leventhal did a presentation on research in the field.
“I spoke about how collecting data on peacefulness and terrorism could influence practice, because when you have data, and you have the ranking, and you understand what some businesses are doing in this area and what can be done and what the effect is on the economy and on business, you build the business case for Business for Peace,” she says.
“There was a lot of interest in this area, both on Business for Peace and research on it. You can see the change in thinking.
“I think it’s like sustainability was twenty years ago, where businesses thought, what do we have to do with ecological sustainability, and now it’s so obvious! I think it’s moving in that direction but much more rapidly, where people realise that peace is really good for business, that they too have an impact on conflict and peace.
“They start putting two and two together and realise that they could actually do things to enhance peace and increase the size and create new markets, create new consumers, and so on, as part of the Business for Peace movement.”
The Geographic Divide
Having spent several days in the international community, Haski-Leventhal says she was forced to reflect on the differences in values and ethics she saw across different nations, and how it might influence their CSR practices.
It has been an ongoing topic of interest for her, having published an article on the topic, which compared the views of business students in Australia, China the US and Iceland – with “somewhat curious” results, she says.
“That was really interesting. We looked at students value as well as their CSR attitudes and their attitudes towards responsible management education,” she explains.
“Firstly when you look at their values, there were significant differences between those four countries.
“One of the values was how important it was to live a happy and comfortable life, and the USA was much higher than everyone else. Also, when you look at being successful in your studies and your work, again it’s very important for American students compared to everyone else.
“When you look at things like being able to do what you want and having a good work-life balance – students from Europe, you can see that it’s a lot more important for them.
“When we asked students if business ethics and social responsibility are critical for the survival of a business enterprise, the highest numbers came from the USA, which I thought was really interesting. Maybe that could be related to some of the ethical meltdowns in the US like Enron, and others that came up.
“American students are a lot less tolerant of unethical behaviour than other students around the world. 82 per cent of American students agreed that business ethics were essential, followed by 81 per cent from Australia and only 75 per cent from Iceland.
“That was the most interesting for me.”
[Asked whether] making a profit was most important even if it means bending or breaking the rules. Only 4 per cent of American students agreed with that statement, versus 20 per cent of students from iceland and 5 per cent in Australia.
“Students from Iceland, and I think we can generalise that to Northern Europe, they tend to be much more concerned about environmental issues, they tend to participate in social movements rather than volunteering, and they’re a lot more tolerant of unethical behaviour when compared to American and Australian students.
“Students from China were somewhere in the middle with 11 per cent agreeing it was okay to break the rules to make a profit.”
An Educational Shift
Haski-Leventhal says her trip reinforced the occurrence of a major global shift in business schools towards responsible management education, which was the focus of the PRME forum.
She helped the organisation conduct their annual study on MBA students around the world, the results of which were presented in New York.
I prefer, when I teach CSR, and I show the students, Archie Carroll's pyramid for example,
“It’s an annual study on MBA students around the world, mainly international…on what they think about CSR and responsible management education,” she says.
“…the study was so important – for the first time, we actually included the students voice in the discussion on responsible management education.
“We’ve done this study twice and we’re about to do it for the third time. The first two rounds of this study showed us a growing positive attitude among students on business ethics, on CSR, on sustainability and other issues. 96 per cent of the students said they want their business school increasing responsible management education and they provided us with input on how that can be done.
“The most common answers were about getting in touch with businesses. ‘Don’t just sit in your ivory tower, but bring real business leaders, bring us case studies from the real world – we really want to learn how it’s being done’.
“Very interestingly, there was a session in the PRME global forum on increasing responsible management education and the panel included both educators and deans but also business people- so there was a representative of IKEA and a representative of Unilever and they were discussing how business schools could work together to enhance responsible business education.”
“We can see some schools around the world, like Copenhagen Business, but also in Australia, [at] Griffith University and Latrobe, they’re actually shifting their entire curriculum to be more in line with responsible management education.”
One key global trend Haski-Leventhal observed was a keenness to improve gender diversity in MBA courses.
“The study’s really interesting, especially when you break it down into subgroups of students. As I said, in general it was very positive, but it was even more positive when you look at female students. A lot of business schools want to increase equality,” she adds.
“I think this study actually shows us that women are after responsible management education…if as a business school you offer an MBA with a purpose the more likely it is that women will be attracted to these kinds of MBAs.”
Haski-Leventhal says she has learned many valuable lessons when she teaches her own students. Much of the data, she says, she can now use in her own classes.
“Hearing the students’ suggestions on responsible management education means that I now include a lot more real-life case studies, bringing in guest lecturers, engaging with the [CSR Partnership Network]. I engage with them as well on how we should teach responsible business to business students.”
Haski-Leventhal says PRME also signposted to business that they “should signal a lot more strongly that you are looking for graduates who are ethical and responsible as part of your demands for good MBA students.”
“Having these ongoing conversations between a triangle of business schools, the businesses and the business students is the only way to actually enhance and be engaged with responsible management education.”
Haski-Leventhal is clear on what needs to be done to further the responsible management education agenda.
“Europe is definitely leading the way, especially Northern Europe. [In Australia] there is a lot to learn from them. But I think Australia is becoming stronger and stronger in this area,” she says.
“In the [UN] General Assembly, one of the Deans of a Canadian Business School came to speak. And she said, ‘45 years ago, there was this one guy who said that the only responsibility of a business was to maximise profit.’…Everyone in the room just burst into laughter.
“I think that business schools that still just teach finance and economics…are becoming sort of dinosaurs in education. It’s about time to shift away from this paradigm.
“It’s not just about teaching sustainability but becoming sustainable themselves – in everything, in the way they consume energy, they way that they teach in the classroom and then getting their student out there to increase social impact – not just sitting in the classroom.”