In the emerging “anywhere” world of online learning, location matters more than ever. Business schools are asserting themselves as community anchors and, as a consequence, becoming more diverse and impactful.
At least three major reasons are driving this localization. First, business schools have been increasing their focus on new business creation and growth. In addition to developing entrepreneurial talent and networks, they are partnering with other schools on campus to take new ideas to the marketplace, supporting incubators and accelerators, informing policy, investing directly in student- and faculty-led startups, and otherwise nurturing the development of entrepreneurial communities. As an example, local business schools are increasingly vital to Bejing’s Zhongguancun district, which is home to an estimated 13,000 startups in 2014.
Second, as competition intensifies, business schools are leveraging the strengths of their communities to differentiate themselves. They are connecting their strategies to local and regional economic development initiatives. It might be renewable energy in Sao Paulo, biotech in Cambridge, or cybersecurity in Tampa. Regardless of the focus, these connections are viewed as mutually beneficial, helping communities attract and retain jobs and enabling business schools to position themselves globally as well as compete locally for students and financial support.
Third, business schools have become instrumental in helping local communities address challenging social issues. They are facilitating partnerships and convening a wide range of people, organizations, and resources, in an effort to tackle the most pressing problems in global society at a local level. Global issues related to poverty, health, and environment, for example, require a combination of global cooperation and local engagement and action.
This last point was made especially clear in conversations at the recent 15th anniversary meeting of the UN Global Compact, an initiative that helps companies do business responsibly and advance broader society goals. The importance of local engagement was a recurring theme at the workshops. Commenting on the future work of Global Compact companies, Harvard University professor Jane Nelson said, “I think the most important thing for the Global Compact going forward is to intensify resources for country-level networks, country ownership agenda, and country-level implementation. It’s going to be very, very important going forward.”
One implication of the trend toward localization is that business schools are becoming even more diverse. As local context increases in importance, the strategies and approaches, student profiles, and faculty models can and should vary accordingly, as should the types of organizations that business schools engage. That is why, over time, AACSB Accreditation has moved from hindering to accommodating to championing diversity in business education.
Rather than diminish the importance of globalization in business education, localization has helped business schools find reasons that it matters more. Business schools are finding ways to leverage global experience for local impact and contribute to global initiatives at the local level. Localization also does not mean that local economies should be protected in a global economy. When localization is done right, business schools help local economies maximize the benefits of participating in the global community.
Thus, AACSB’s growing international footprint is viewed not only as a path toward globalization but also as a way to encourage and support local action and impact. A significant figure that emerged from the Global Compact +15 meeting is the 169 targets that exist across the 17 draft Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). That number might seem overwhelming—no single business, government, or NGO could address them all. But every business school, engaging and making an impact locally, can make a huge difference globally.
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