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Chair's Exchange: Catalysts for Innovation to Build and Transform Global Communities

August 2015

William Glick

By William H. Glick, Chair, AACSB Board of Directors
Dean, Jones Graduate School of Business, Rice University


Very few business schools identify themselves as catalysts for change in their communities, yet these ideas are surfacing in global conversations intended to shape the direction of management education worldwide. During the most recent meeting at the center of this discussion, the AACSB Committee on Issues in Management Education (CIME) reviewed and discussed several themes emerging from the broader visioning conversation and focused on the idea of being catalysts for innovation in our communities. In the context of shifting roles of management in society, evolving expectations of management education, and emerging opportunities for business schools, CIME encourages AACSB and its member schools to take very proactive roles as catalysts for innovation. The implications of this kind of vision for business education are intriguing, and I encourage you to participate in the ongoing conversation at http://www.aacsb.edu/vision.

As business schools, we often focus on teaching and research as our primary methods of value creation. Emphasizing our roles as catalysts, however, could get us to think more broadly about developing managerial and organizational capabilities to enhance sustainable wealth creation. Developing community-focused projects may be important for both experiential learning and directly transforming the community. Life-long learning may be best facilitated outside of the classroom, shifting from a traditional teacher-learner model to a more flexible, highly leveraged catalyst-learner model that might simultaneously precipitate individual learning and organizational change through interactions structured by the catalyst.

As catalysts for change, we have a responsibility to our communities, not just to individual students or recruiters. Our target markets are not just businesses but may also include government agencies, NGOs, state-owned enterprises, schools, hospitals, and more. Our responsibility to our communities will also come with greater accountability to them and a greater recognition of the diverse interests across these groups. Business schools will need to be much more market focused in the highly fragmented marketplace of the future. Differentiated market segments and individual communities are unlikely to support homogeneous product offerings.

As catalysts for innovation, we must be simultaneously mindful of current practice, desired outcomes, and feasible future business practices. Experimental and analytical research can be instrumental in understanding the possible, but such investigation is unlikely to be translated into action without a deeper understanding of business practice. Business schools must continuously improve their integration of managerial practice and the interdisciplinary sciences that guide our research.

As catalysts for innovation to build and transform global communities, our ability to create value goes far beyond the classroom. The potential impact of our teaching and scholarship is reflected in a variety of metrics and stories. Fortunately, numerous stories already exist that validate our role as transformative catalysts. Many of these stories are being captured for AACSB’s Centennial Celebration through three initiatives: the Influential Leaders Challenge (alumni schools will be recognized at the Annual Accreditation Conference in September), Innovations That Inspire (starting in October, with schools recognized at the Deans Conference in January-February 2016), and a student social media sharing challenge (beginning in February 2016). Although these initiatives were not specifically designed to reflect the catalytic nature of business schools, the nominations for the first challenge has provided ample evidence of our impact. Many of the nominated influential leaders have been phenomenally successful in creating and building sustainable economic, social, and environmental value while also volunteering in nonprofit organizations that transform their communities.

Business schools are in a unique position of interconnectedness to groups of stakeholders with varying needs. We must take advantage of that position by injecting creative and purpose-driven learning into our programs, by conversing with our communities about their needs, and by contributing meaningful research that serves the business practice of today and informs the practice of tomorrow. We are exceptionally qualified to be the drivers of change in a global society.