Speakers at AACSB Deans Conference Responsible Management Education Affinity Group: Dayle Smith, Dima Richad Jamali, Hanna-Leena Pesonen, and Mark Smith. Speakers at AACSB 2021 Deans Conference Responsible Management Education Affinity Group meeting.

Responsible Management Education in 2021 and Beyond

Learnings from the Responsible Management Education Affinity Group meeting at AACSB's 2021 Deans Conference.


This article originally appeared on the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative blog on February 26, 2021.

The largest global event for business school deans, the AACSB Deans Conference, was centered this year on the theme of "Leading for Impact," which was notable both for its relevance to the COVID-19 pandemic and to AACSB’s recently adopted 2020 business accreditation standards that greatly emphasize societal impact. The February 22 meeting of the Responsible Management Education (RME) Affinity Group was held before the official start of the conference, which I facilitated and hosted along with RME Affinity Group chair, Cathy DuBois, associate dean for graduate and online programs at Kent State University’s College of Business Administration.

The affinity group meeting kicked off with perspectives from four global deans on the current trajectory for responsible management education and an overview of the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative (GRLI) Deans & Directors Cohort peer-learning community, now entering its fourth year.

The four “conversation starter” deans, representing schools in the United Arab Emirates, South Africa and France, the United States, and Finland, were Dima Rachid Jamali of the University of Sharjah College of Business Administration, Mark Smith of the University of Stellenbosch Business School and Grenoble EM, Dayle Smith of Loyola Marymount University College of Business Administration in Los Angeles, and Hanna-Leena Pesonen of Jyväskylä University College of Business Administration. Following the opening discussion, the meeting broke into two smaller sessions allowing all attendees to add their perspectives on and experience of GRLI’s approach to inquiry-led peer-based learning.

We’re pleased to share highlights of the discussion below with reference to the main questions addressed in the meeting:

With reference to your current context and direction of travel, what are you learning (individually, institutionally, systemically) about progressing responsible management education?

Dima Rachid Jamali: In my context, I think there is an important role for business schools to connect the dots among key players in the sustainability ecosystem, including the private sector, governmental agencies, U.N. agencies, and especially the youth, through academic institutions. The sustainability agenda is by nature very broad and comprehensive, and hence the need for systemic and holistic efforts that bring together the key players in any particular ecosystem. We are particularly eager to involve the youth and educate them on all aspects of responsible engagement, as future agents of change. We are keen to have future business leaders who are concerned not only about the economic impacts of their business ventures but equally their social and environmental footprint in the world. This is exactly the sort of effort that we are now championing through the College of Business Administration at the University of Sharjah.

Mark Smith: In advance of the session, and inspired this question, I was thinking about the need to identify a role for elite business schools and their impact on society. In particular the role of business schools as agents promoting inequalities or actively addressing inequalities in countries like France and South Africa (countries with inequalities, even if different). Secondly, I feel a pressing need to focus on the extent to which business schools can transform the lives of their students in the current climate but also transform themselves and be leaders for a better society (sustainability, equity, racial justice, etc.). Finally, business schools can impact their societies through the partnerships they have and choose to develop. These partnerships are testament to the school’s commitment and priorities but also their potential for impact.

Dayle Smith: LMU is the educational partner for Ascend Los Angeles, where we are offering training for entrepreneurs (women and people of color) and business training to help small business owners create profitable businesses, incubate their ideas, and impact their own communities. LMU is also providing curricular grants to faculty who are doing mission-related work and can integrate social justice into their courses. We also changed our curriculum to do a first-year business school experience on “business for good” as part of our mission-related work in this space—students work on new business ideas from a “bottom-up perspective,” learning how business models can have a triple-bottom-line orientation. Students engage and partner with NGOs in this program, and topics are integrated across the curriculum. Two of our majors now have tracks for business for good/societal transformation.

Hanna-Leena Pesonen: Responsible management education has clearly gained momentum. There is a lot of recent interest in the subject, and business schools are making efforts to redesign their education. At the same time, a lot more could still be done, for example designing dedicated programs and courses, incorporating sustainability aspects into all programs and courses, or adding multidisciplinary content into business education to support deeper understanding of sustainability aspects in business. Many business school leaders are now voicing a need for business schools to rethink their purpose in the world and would like to see business schools and businesses as “force for good.” To be a force for good requires serious questioning and redesigning business concepts and frameworks, such as sustainability of capitalism as an economic system, competition as the dominant driver, or the need and quality of growth, which I have written about in an earlier GRLI blog post.

All of the above efforts will begin to nurture a new generation of business leaders prepared to deal with the challenges sustainability poses on businesses. This gives me reason for optimism that business schools and businesses will eventually be a force for good, creating solutions to tackle sustainability challenges.

Collected Insights and Takeaways

Jamali shared her key takeaway of the ongoing challenge of addressing all of the SDGs, particularly the goals focused on people and not just the environment, and of involving both young men and women in the sustainability agenda. One approach she offered was what she called the “Three I Framework” of inspiration, institutionalization, and impact.v

She noted that discussion in the breakout session covered disruptions caused by the COVID-19 crisis, and the need to move forward with vigor in order to make up for lost time, in terms of making progress on the U.N. 2030 agenda.

M. Smith noted three points he gleaned from the breakout discussion. First is the need to pay attention to the social, demographic, and gender mix of those who are supporting responsibility and sustainability inside business schools—and how we engage all internal stakeholders. Second is the challenge of addressing all of the SDGs, particularly the people-oriented ones, and the possibilities offered by curricula reviews and allowing faculty to identify their own links. The final challenges he noted are those posed by COVID-19 for advancing the SDGs and responsibility, and the importance for leaders to take advantage of inevitable post-pandemic strategic reviews.

From their breakout session, D. Smith and Pesonen raised the range of responses from faculty regarding RME and building and integrating the SDGs with Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) and GRLI concerns into our schools—from “advocate to neutral to resistance.” One should not assume total buy-in, and there is a need to work with a range of commitments toward moving the needle.

As recommendations for what works in this integration, they remarked that a collaborative of like-minded deans (and communities) helps you move forward—such as the GRLI Deans Cohort, being a PRME signatory, or the example of State University of New York campuses coming together to do a conference around the curriculum. Ideas for integrating the SDGs into teaching and learning include courses that address business’s role in the SDGs with speakers and community leaders. They noted the importance of going beyond “climate/planet” to seeing our work as another framework for introducing how we address issues like poverty through business leadership in growth and development. Additionally, job creation is an impactful way to induce change in many ways.

Being mission focused was also part of the discussion, to drive change and bring awareness and resources to the desired changes. This can be easier to integrate with a dedicated center.

Partnerships are key through connections with national organizations as well as integration across the university for more interdisciplinary curricular innovation.

The GRLI itself is a strategic partnership with EFMD, AACSB, and the U.N. Global Compact, and is committed to facilitating innovative, pioneering, and action-oriented peer-learning, hands-on collaboration, and partnership opportunities for senior leaders in the fields of management, higher education, and organizational learning. The GRLI Deans & Directors Cohort is a participant-driven co-learning and co-action opportunity that has engaged over 100 global deans and directors to date in advancing global responsibility in learning, leadership, and practice. Contact john.north@grli.org to learn more about associating or partnering with the GRLI.

Thanks to Cathy DuBois for her role as RME Affinity Group chair and AACSB’s president and CEO, Caryn Beck-Dudley, for support of our shared goals. In collaboration with our foundational strategic partner AACSB, we are keen to observe how ideas and inquiries that continue to emerge from the GRLI Deans and Directors Cohort grow into initiatives, yield impact beyond the cohort and help develop new insights into the development of global responsibility for lasting societal impact.

The next meeting of the RME Affinity Group will take place at AACSB’s largest global event, the International Conference and Annual Meeting (ICAM), beginning April 6. Learn more about registering for networking community meetings.


John North, Executive Director, Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative (GRLI)John North is executive director of the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative (GRLI).