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Embedding PRME and SDGs Into Business Curriculum

How can business schools more authentically deliver on their promises to stakeholders to prepare responsible business leaders and create societal impact?

While social responsiveness, responsible leadership, sustainability, engagement, and societal impact have become increasingly important in management education and have found their way into accreditation standards, many business schools have yet to live up to fully embracing and integrating them into their curriculum.

Committing to Societal Impact

Reading the mission statements of many business schools, it quickly becomes evident that these schools are already committed to shaping a better future and to providing students with the management education necessary to get there. But when one looks closer, it is less evident how these impressive mission statements are reflected in the way management education is actually delivered.

Business schools have been rather good in joining the U.N.’s Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) as signatories or committing to its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Albeit signing up for PRME, delivering a seminar on the SGDs, or designing a new course in ethics or corporate social responsibilities are all valid activities, in many cases these actions will not fundamentally change the way students are educated, and—most likely—students will not perceive their schools as being fully committed to the issues, either. As many of them belong to Generation Z, a generation known for greatly caring about our planet’s future, they might perceive those isolated activities as halfhearted efforts.

Such isolated activities feel more like attempts to satisfy accreditation standards or reporting requirements. How can schools more authentically deliver on their promises to stakeholders and society?

To be credible, business schools need a more holistic approach if they are to fully embrace social responsiveness, responsible leadership, sustainability, engagement, and societal impact. AACSB’s proposed 2020 business accreditation standards give hope that business schools will rethink their activities and focus more on integrated approaches to their curriculum (Standard 4) as well as their engagement and societal impact (Standard 9).

Integrating PRME and SDGs Through Case Studies

The proposed standards have a new focus on engagement and societal impact that invites new opportunities for program enhancements. Using curriculum as the main vehicle, business schools will be able to demonstrate positive societal impact through internal and external initiatives and/or activities, consistent with their schools’ missions, strategies, and expected outcomes.

One way—not the way—of using the curriculum to focus more on engagement and societal impact is through using cases in class that focus discussions on the SDGs. My experience is that, with a little bit of good will, such an internal activity can be done in almost any business course.

For example, in a project management course, using suitable teaching cases, I was able to both teach a number of project management concepts at the same time as I was able to sensitize students to the PRME and the SGDs. A case like Project Selection: Picking the Best Option, for instance, lends itself to teaching some basic project selection techniques while also facilitating discussions on at least the following five SDGs:

My experience shows that students are easily engaged in the case discussion. They show genuine interest in the topic and learn more about the SDGs. Being engaged in the case actually makes it easier for students to discuss and reflect in more depth on the project management concepts, too.

Societal Impact Through Engaging Curricula

Engaging Generation Z students in the PRME and the SDGs is no difficult endeavor. Many students, in fact, very much enjoy discussing these topics in class. They value that their business schools are actively involved in shaping our planet’s future and that their schools prepare them for becoming responsible leaders of tomorrow.

Providing an engaging education that focuses on developing responsible leadership capabilities eventually will leave its mark in business and society. For as our graduates move on and take up new leadership roles, we likely will see more sustainable and responsible decisions being made, leaving us with the satisfaction that we changed our graduates’ lives and that the lives of many others will be positively impacted by their future decisions.

Making such a long-term impact is possible when we truly embed the Sustainable Development Goals and the Principles for Responsible Management Education in our curricula—not just because we need to report on a standard, but because we actually live our missions and care about a better tomorrow.


Frank Ulbrich, professor and program director for the Bachelor’s Program in Business Administration at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and ArtsFrank Ulbrich is professor and program director for the Bachelor’s Program in Business Administration at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Switzerland.