Collaborative Learning and Leadership for Urgent Times

Collaborative Learning and Leadership for Urgent Times

In the Deans & Directors Cohort, we are working to solve dire problems in highly collaborative ways—including transforming management education to achieve the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.

Has there ever been a more urgent time of reckoning with the difficulties facing all of us? Climate breakdown, political unrest, and economic uncertainty are only some of the challenges confronting us in a time of unparalleled transparency, when the suffering of people and collapsing biodiversity around the world is as close as our mobile phones and in front of our eyes—yet it is so commonplace now that we can too easily become desensitized.

Within these urgent challenges lies one of the greatest opportunities humanity has had. Every single one of us reading this article has the power to spend our time at work and at home in ways that restore human dignity and ensure a healthy planet for all. The best self that we bring to our families and close friends must also be nurtured in the institutions of higher learning and the organizations where we work.

Inspired by the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework, the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative (GRLI) community joins the world in celebrating the upcoming International Volunteer Day as an opportunity to reflect on how we contribute to a better world for all. To help change the trajectory of adverse events put into action over many years, we are committed to finding new ways of working together for global responsibility. These explorations include an inquiry into finding new ways to learn, live, and lead in all aspects of our lives.

As an example, the ongoing initiative of GRLI called the Deans & Directors Cohort serves committed leaders from AACSB member schools worldwide. In fact, the cohort was developed during the 2017 AACSB International Deans Conference, out of its Responsible Management Education Affinity Group. Inspired by the 50+20 vision of “Management Education for the World” and the urgency our times require, the GRLI is honored to facilitate this internationally diverse Deans & Directors Cohort who can apply their influence and position to catalyze change.

Building on two years of in-person and virtual convening, we are starting to accumulate “learnings from the learning” about how the cohort works and the impact it has had within and beyond participating institutions and organizations. These lessons embrace whole-person and whole-systems thinking to solve dire problems in highly collaborative ways—including transforming management education to achieve the U.N. SDGs.

While we focus on the actions we can collectively take this International Volunteer Day, this 24-hour period is a microcosm of the mindset we must embrace every day to solve complex challenges. That is what our times demand from those of us charged with preparing today’s and tomorrow’s business leaders.

As an example, the deans cohort includes a collaborative team of three from George Mason University, who share this reflection: “Inspired by our participation in the GRLI Deans & Directors Cohort, we have strengthened and expanded the scope of our initial cohort proposal. Because we believe that George Mason University can and should lead our region in preparing today’s tri-sector leaders for tomorrow’s challenges, we are establishing a university-wide center led by the School of Business. This center will advance teaching, research and public-private partnerships to address the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.”

The team, which includes business school dean, Maury Peiperl; deputy dean and senior associate dean for strategy and impact, Anne Magro; and director of global impact and engagement, Lisa Gring-Pemble, say that, “Ultimately, we want to spark student passions, spur interdisciplinary partnerships across the university, and create strong organizational ties around bold and creative ideas, all in an effort to effect meaningful change and result in lasting impact.”

In addition, Paul Matthyssens, former dean and now academic director for the Master’s in Global Management at Antwerp Management School, reflects on his experience with the initiative: “Deans can and should claim a more prominent role in driving Sustainability and Responsible Management Education at their school.” This transformation, Matthyssens continues, “involves a well-thought, deliberate and complete alignment process that goes beyond changing a program or two or overcoming resistance. It is not just about ‘opening the minds’ of students and faculty; it is much more about ‘touching the souls.’”

We invite your contribution to the next gathering of the Deans & Directors Cohort, scheduled for March 21–24, 2019, at the University of Vermont in Burlington, Vermont, USA. To learn more about participation in the cohort, visit or contact John North at [email protected].

We feel energized by International Volunteer Day’s collective impact by millions of participants worldwide—a showcase for making the world better not as a result of specific actions but by the process of committed, dedicated, and empowered individuals working together. In this spirit we plan to spend International Volunteer Day continuing our work to catalyze new ways of living, learning, and leading together.

John North, Executive Director, Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative (GRLI)John North is executive director of the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative (GRLI). The GRLI, a strategic partnership of AACSB International, EFMD, and United Nations Global Compact, exists to catalyze globally responsible leadership and practice in organizations and societies worldwide.