5 December 2008
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


Academic institutions did not make change quickly, but when they did, they made it for the long run and for the greater good, correspondents heard today at a Headquarters press conference on the first Global Forum for Responsible Management Education.

More than 250 business school leaders gathered at United Nations in New York to discuss how academic institutions could teach a new generation of corporate leaders to value global social responsibility in their work.  The co-conveners of the first Global Forum for Responsible Management Education said the two-day event, due to conclude today, would help embed corporate responsibility and sustainability in the mainstream of business education.

Speaking at the press conference were representatives from the eight institutions that jointly convened the forum, including Manuel Escudero, Special Adviser to the United Nations Global Compact; Gerard van Schaik, Honorary President, European Foundation for Management Development; John Fernandes, President, Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business; Judith Samuelson, Director, Aspen Institute’s Business and Society Program; Angel Cabrera, President, Thunderbird School of Global Management; Liz Maw, Executive Director, Net Impact; Pierre Tapie, Dean and President, ESSEC Business School; and Gilbert Lenssen, President, European Academy of Business in Society.

The Global Forum was being held in celebration of the one year anniversary of the Principles for Responsible Management Education, which was a set of six guiding principles that, Mr. Escudero said, constituted a “global call” for curriculum change in business schools.  The principles helped schools integrate corporate responsibility and sustainability in the education of current and future business managers, in a gradual but systemic manner.  Close to 200 business schools, from all continents and corners of the world, had already adopted the principles and were working to put them into action.

The Forum, which was expected to wrap up today with remarks by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, was the first of its kind and was aimed at bringing together global leaders in responsible business education, to celebrate the achievements of the Principles and to share best models, innovative practices and cutting-edge research on providing real-world learning experiences to future business leaders.

The remarkable impact of business, as an institution, on modern society had become increasingly apparent, said Mr. Fernandes.  Yet, while businesses had the ability to solve complex problems on a global scale, business leaders needed the knowledge to do so effectively.

As Ms. Samuelson put it, business leaders needed to have a better grasp of the non-market impact of their work.  “They actually have to think about every decision they make through the lens of -- how is this impacting the communities that host us, that provide us employees, and that provide us goods and services,” she said.  Additionally, business leaders should be thinking about what they could do, over the long-term, to turn the extraordinary capacity and talent base of businesses towards the issues that organizations like the United Nations dealt with every day.

Current research revealed that 76 per cent of senior executives felt it was important to have the knowledge and skills to respond to trends like resource scarcity, the low-carbon economy and doing business in emerging markets, said Mr. Lenssen.  However, only 8 per cent of those executives thought that knowledge was being developed effectively, either by their own organizations or business schools.  It was time, therefore, to make business schools more relevant in the current world.

Indeed, the timing of the Global Forum could not have been any better, since the current global turmoil had turned the question of business in society into a key political concern, said Mr. Tapie, who also served as the Chairman of the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative.  The Forum had opened yesterday, at the same time that the top executives of three United States auto companies had appeared before the United States Congress, asking for financial assistance to help them through the crisis.  Mr. Lenssen described those events as a “humiliation for the whole managerial class” and a sign that the world needed to reflect on what values were being taught to business leaders.

As Mr. van Schaik explained, the crisis was teaching businesses about the perils of short-term thinking and the need for long-term growth, and that long-term growth could never be achieved without a commitment to sustainability and social responsibility.  “As long as we expect short-term results, without accountability or the need to sustain the organization and to sustain society, we’ll get what we’re asking for,” said Mr. Fernandes.

Ms. Law, who represented the student voice, said business school students were clamouring for information on how to make their businesses sustainable and socially responsible, since many young business leaders wanted to live their values in their future work.  Mr. Cabrera, who was the co-Chair of the international task force that drafted the principles, said that words like “an inclusive and sustainable global economy” were new words for business schools, but courageous leaders, like the ones attending the Forum, were helping to make those words more mainstream.

In closing, Mr. Escudero encouraged correspondents to take note of the outcome document of the Forum, which would link the debate among academic leaders to the ongoing financial crisis and would include a very important call to educate a new generation of corporate leaders that valued global social responsibility.

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