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Business and Society: A Flourishing Marriage

November 2014

By Hanna McLeod
Manager, Research
AACSB International

Last month, the Third Global Forum for Business as An Agent of World Benefit, themed “Flourish & Prosper,” took place at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, through the support of several sponsors, including AACSB International. The event attracted over 650 attendees representing academe and both private and public sectors, all focused on cultivating organizations and enterprises that can flourish and prosper, rather than merely strive for sustainability. What exactly does this mean? Hosts of the event shared an analogy that helped crystalize one of the event’s main themes, through a quote by Michael Braungart referenced in the foreword to Chris Lazlo and Judy Sorum Brown’s book, “Flourishing Enterprise: The New Spirit of Business.”

Peter Senge, who authored the foreword, recalls Braungart’s observation: “If someone asked you how your marriage was and you said, ‘It’s sustainable,’ this would not be a good thing.”

The term “flourishing,” however, portrays a marriage that thrives and that cultivates mutual benefit for the committed individuals who work together and nurture their relationship in order to make meaningful contributions as an entity. The same can be applied to business as an enterprise and the individuals within, who strive for outcomes that not only help business sustain, but rather prosper. Naturally, management education has an important role in helping business achieve such goals.

AACSB President and CEO John Fernandes highlighted examples of AACSB schools that are “doing well, and subsequently have made strides in doing good” for business, society, and stakeholders. The AACSB accreditation standards encourage business schools to make such objectives priorities, as communicated through the eligibility criteria, which compels schools to exhibit commitment to corporate and social responsibility, as well as through standard 9, which calls for schools to implement curricula that supports the development of holistic leadership among future business leaders.

The themes that emerged at the forum aligned with much of the work that AACSB’s Committee on Issues in Management Education (CIME) has been exploring through its Visioning Initiative, particularly the future roles of management in society. Conversations that buzzed throughout the event’s workshops revolved around related areas, such as re-establishing business faculty as public intellectuals in society; cultivating a mindset in business (through management education opportunities) that allows it to recognize its important role as a driver for an effectively functioning society; organizing learning and research agendas around global challenges; and better understanding and communication around the notion that business creates value, largely by three defining and unique characteristics, as outlined by one of the event’s speakers, Raj Sisodia, co-founder of Conscious Capitalism:

Business is ethical because it is based on voluntary exchange;
Business is noble because it can elevate human existence; and
Business is heroic because it lifts people out of poverty.

The relationship between business and society has been garnering increasing attention, as is evidenced through initiatives and events such as the Global Forum for Business as an Agent for World Benefit. AACSB has long been a supporter and active participant in the dialogue around strengthening collaboration and mutual responsibility between the business world and global society. Through the work of its Visioning Initiative, AACSB aims to continue to emphasize how business school can be, or rather must be, leaders in making the positive impacts and contributions that global society needs in order to flourish and prosper.