Ask More of Business

Asking More Commentary: Perspectives from Mendoza College of Business

Commentary Post - Carolyn Y. Woo

Re-educating b-schools: An update on the PRME initiative

July 1, 2010

When launched in 2007, the hope of the Principles of Responsible Management Education (PRME) initiative was to transform the goal of a b-school education. The traditional focus for 60 years has been a narrow one, primarily centered on wealth-creation for owners. PRME calls us back to the fundamental canons of human communities, calling for a renewed vision of business as a force for good.

As a human community, human rights necessarily take precedence over all other interests.  Economic enterprises must serve people, not the other way around.  And as a community, by definition, we flourish and advance collectively, not individually.  This calls for an attitude of mutuality – a right proportion between what we take and what we give back – as well as a recognition that the actions of one community member does has impact on others, for better or for worse.

These thoughts were included in the address I made to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon when PRME was introduced during the UN Global Summit in December 2008.

Eighteen months have passed, and there is progress to report. I recently attended the second UN Global Forum on Responsible Management Education in New York where more than 215 business educators came together. There, the forum released an outcomes statement that reported 300-plus business school representing 62 countries have joined the initiative.

This is a good start. But with 12,000 degree-granting business institutions worldwide, we are just at the beginning of the journey.

In this spirit, at the PRME Global Forum, the Steering Committee and signatories adopted a declaration that set a goal of 1,000 PRME schools by 2015. These schools will commit to the six principles of PRME to enhance our curricula, pedagogy, research, incentives, outreach as well as lead by example to prepare organizational leaders who will balance economic and social development.

On June 24, the day after the forum, I served on a plenary panel during the UN Global Compact Leaders Summit 2010. As part of this panel, a sustainability survey of 1,000 CEOs was released. The survey described whether these executives thought such issues as renewable energy and environmental concerns would become integrated into a company’s core operations, or be considered more of a “special interest,” and how these concerns might shape business operations in the decade ahead.

The interests of PRME and these UN Global Compact signatories are significantly and extensively aligned. If business schools are to succeed in broadening their vision, they will need the collaboration of CEOs and other executive leaders. In turn, these leaders will need the fresh vision of business school students – the future CEOs – in order to fulfill their societal responsibilities in a way that balances economic and social development.

In my remarks to the plenary panel, I laid out three roles that the corporate leaders can play to help business schools and universities cultivate the requisite mindset and skills for socially responsible leadership. They include enabling learning by faculty and students through such measure as providing access to internal training programs and research on effective practices and case development; sponsoring seminars and competitions; and serving as lecturers.

It is also important that the signatory corporations advocate PRME participation. They can do this by sending letters to business schools endorsing PRME membership; explicitly inquiring about the coverage of social and environmental sustainability in the curricula, just as they would ask of other providers in the supply chain; serving on advisory boards; and personally reaching out to university and business leaders to become learning partners of sustainability initiatives.

But lastly, what we need most for our students is the antidote to skepticism and cynicism.  We need their hearts to engage, to believe, to care and to hope.  I called on these leaders to inspire us by their actions, their desire for our success and above all, their commitment, constancy and courage in the face of an imperfect environment and push-backs by those who are indifferent and critical.