So here we are. As hot as the weather is in New York, as hotly contested is the role which business education has played recently in making for more responsible companies. At the PRME 'side event' of the UNGC Summit some rather soulsearching questions were raised. Rakesh Kurana from Harvard made it quite clear that one of the dilemmas of b-schools in fact is that they have come to see their students rather as ‘customers’ then people who need education and at times been served a diet that needs some acquired taste. Just to blame the business world for lack of demand for issues of CSR and ethics is not enough in a world where the public increasingly worries about the status of wider societal impacts of business.
While the Accenture Study (in cooperation with the UNGC) of the opinion of more than 800 CEOs suggest a slightly different picture, it leaves us with one general problem: Since business education, certainly at postgraduate/MBA level is in fact privatised and ‘purchased’ by students or their companies, this inherent tension cannot be denied. One of the reasons I personally have started to dislike teaching on MBA – or worse – executive MBA – programs is exactly that it is a tough challenge to make students think, reflect about things unknown or strange to them and, most notably, to read. And the issues the UNGC is concerned about fall exactly in this category.
Interesting comments came from India, delivered by Jamshed Irani, Director, Tata Sons Limited. In his view, since business schools don’t do a good job (in general) at talking about climate change, ethics etc. corporations should have their own universities and b-schools. Yes, you havn’t misheard. I guess this reflects a tradition of a great company with a long tradition of philanthropy and ethics, such as Tata. But what about a b-school run by AIG, BP or Lehman Brothers? Just imagine the type of ‘leaders’ we would get from there...
So far the UNGC summit (i.e. this fringe event) put the finger on one important thing: with delegating responsibility for public goods (and education used to be one) in the hand of private actors, we have opened a pandora’s box. Its irreversible, I think (as the Hewlett Packard Chair in CSR, no less). But we need new criteria for private responsibility for public goods in order to change this focus within b-schools. How this will be achieved – no real answers so far from New York.