Screenshot of four attendees smiling at virtual AACSB Global Accreditation Conference

Implementing New Standards in a Virtual World

Following approval of the 2020 standards, business schools collaborate on the best ways to create principled, purposeful educational experiences—virtually.

As business educators continue to adapt to major global shifts and limited mobility, nearly 700 business school leaders convened virtually at AACSB’s Global Accreditation Conference to look toward a future of societal impact and continuous improvement.

Discussions and sessions converged on two central themes: emerging opportunities from the recently approved 2020 business accreditation standards, and optimization of learning and partnerships in a virtual-first environment.

Business as a Force for Good

The 2020 business accreditation standards, approved by AACSB-accredited institutions in July, prioritize positive societal impact through cross-disciplinary work, partnerships with business, improved flexibility for schools, and a renewed focus on continuous improvement in three vital areas: engagement, innovation, and impact. The emergence of societal impact as a guiding principle and its reflection in several standards is a key shift for AACSB and its accredited institutions.

One critical question that participants considered was, How can business schools create and scale their societal impact? Anupama Gupta, of S.P. Jain Institute of Management and Research in Mumbai, cited the importance of strategic planning: “Action begins with your mission: we focus on learner-centric pedagogy, creating value-based growth in underserved communities, and research that directly influences practice because those are our key objectives.” Her co-presenter, Cathy DuBois, of Kent State University’s College of Business Administration in Kent, Ohio, emphasized that “creating change is about first setting aspirational goals. Where you put your attention is where you grow.”

Additional breakout discussions highlighted the breadth of societal impact, with schools focusing on building and expanding programs on social justice, diversity and inclusion, sustainability, and more. The range of social challenges presents a question: How do schools know where to focus, and how can they measure their outcomes? Session participants suggested that school missions and values should guide their focus on impact, and that measuring impact can be done with a simple perspective: How would your school’s area of influence in society be affected if your school did not exist?

The updated standards also strongly encourage collaborations, including cross-disciplinary ones. Lucia Tajoli, of Politecnico di Milano School of Management, framed the importance of solving business problems by bringing different competencies to the table: “By collaborating between disciplines, we approach problems with new angles and improve the richness of our research, contacts, and partnerships.” Markus Granlund, of the University of Turku’s Turku School of Economics, shares that, “When addressing wicked problems, you have to look broader than business education. You have to transcend disciplines to address sustainability, technology changes, and cultural transformations.”

The world’s biggest challenges can’t be tackled by business schools alone. Rather, by coming together as a business education alliance and reaching out to our communities, we can scale our positive impacts bigger and faster than ever before.

Being Agile in a Virtual World

Creating purpose, through societal impact and through our efforts as educators, is even more critical in a contactless world. Global political, environmental, and economic changes have necessitated that our interactions be virtual, in some ways negatively affecting our ability to maintain mindfulness, wellness, and high performance.

Nick Van Dam, of IE Business School in Madrid, connects mindfulness to purpose: “Differentiating what is and isn’t important gives you energy and passion and success. Purpose makes you happier, and happiness is something we can teach business school students at all levels.”

To teach them, though, we must first embody the traits that create wellness. Noémie Le Pertel, also of IE Business School, asserts that “Empathy, realistic expectations, listening, creating a space for conversation, modeling your own self-care, and wellbeing behaviors are all important. You can’t lead others without first investing in yourself.”

Other challenges created by the pandemic include maintaining effective peer review visits, staying engaged with colleagues, and rethinking strategic plans. In fact, a consistent theme throughout the conference was a reconception of strategic planning from a periodic process to a continuous one.

Business school leaders are also setting more ambitious goals: “We should have the courage and the curiosity to create initiatives that will eventually fail,” says Nikolaj Malchow-Moller of Copenhagen Business School.

AACSB’s renewed strategic focus was also shared by Caryn Beck-Dudley, AACSB’s chief executive officer. That focus is centered on delivering member value, leading the industry, and building strong relationships with business and within the university system. Business schools and the communities they support have demonstrated incredible agility. But going forward, how can they continue to adapt and provide value? By staying connected to peers, learning from each other’s successes, and creating lasting, positive societal impact.


Andrea Smith, Manager, Marketing and Communications, AACSB InternationalAndrea Smith is the manager for marketing and communications at AACSB International and is based in Tampa, Florida.