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Are Business Schools Working Together?

“The scientists are coming together to think about moonshots. But we, in business schools, are still working separately.” said Peter Tufano when Soumitra Dutta and I interviewed him for our book, “The World After Covid”, April 2020, during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic. Do you agree with him?

Of course, business schools do work together. Many have long lists of partner schools for student exchanges, support connections to scholars at other schools, collaborations to create and offer joint or dual-degree programs, share resources, and more.

Still, I agree with Professor Tufano. His point was less about whether business schools are collaborating and more about why. In my experience, most business school collaborations are driven primarily, if not exclusively, by the strategic or financial benefits to participating schools. By working together, schools believe they can strengthen degree programs, penetrate new markets, build their reputations, increase revenues, decrease costs, and publish more journal articles.

There is nothing wrong with collaborating for mutual benefit. Why else would organizations work together? Leaders should know “what’s in it for my school” before agreeing to join forces with others. 

However, the reference to “moonshots” suggests that there is something more than self-interest that brings scientists together. The term came out of the US Apollo 11 spaceflight project, which had the objective of putting the first person on the moon. Although the term originally indicated “long shot,” it is often used more generally today to describe a lofty goal. 

When I hear the word, I think of bold initiatives to solve society’s “grand challenges” and save and improve lives— unlocking our full potential to achieve the SDGs. Moonshots, I believe go beyond a single organization. They require collaboration, especially internationally. Think International Space Station and the Human Genome Project. I’ve been paying more attention to the International Cancer Genome Consortium, which aims to map the genetic impact of 50 common cancers by sequencing the DNA of cells at distinct stages in the lifecycle of a tumor. 

Though the objectives may be less tangible, we have some examples in business. When Professor Tufano was Dean of Oxford University Saïd Business School, he “walked the talk” by helping to start Business Schools for Climate Leadership in which eight European schools are currently working together to accelerate business activities towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Addressing the climate emergency is as important as putting a person on the moon, don’t you think?

And consider the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM). It has become the world’s most comprehensive source of information about entrepreneurship and their ecosystems, which are as vital to building more inclusive and sustainable communities as accelerating economic growth. Perhaps it wasn’t envisioned as a moonshot when launched in 1999 by Babson College and London Business School, with a focus on 10 countries. But today with more than 300 institutions covering more than 115 countries, its potential for positive impact is huge.

The Global Business School Network was started with societal impact in mind—a vision to accelerate international development by improving access to quality, locally relevant management education. For most of our history, we pursued this vision through grant projects. Today, we also achieve it with our own programs that engage network members—their students, faculty, and leaders—in important and impactful work that drives inclusive and sustainable development. 

We have been bringing together business schools for important societal initiatives, such as building more resilient communities (Social Logistics Challenge and previous Humanitarian Logistics Challenges), steering consumer preferences to more nutritious and sustainable foods (Demand Generation Alliance), improving human rights education (Business and Human Rights Impact Community), helping SMEs in emerging economies to trade across borders (DHL GBSN GoTrade Fellowship), developing leadership skills of female entrepreneurs in Sub-Saharan Africa (Ellevate Leadership Training Programme), and more. 

Unfortunately, collaborations that focus as much on society as well as strategy are still uncommon across business schools. Perhaps that is because the culture of business education reflects the culture of business, and we’ll see more only when the “business case” is clearer. It could be because of the extraordinary influence of rankings and entrenched systems for evaluating and rewarding research. I also worry about the changing geopolitical landscape (between the US and China, for example) and its impact on academic collaboration. It is important for the management education industry to understand and address these and other potential obstacles.

This year at our signature event,  GBSN Beyond, we will explore the opportunities and difficulties of business schools working together for societal impact. We will challenge business school leaders to think not only about the difference their business school can make alone, but also about the bigger difference it can make by working together with other schools and at the nexus of business, government, and civil society. 

We invite you to join us, in-person and online, as we convene in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, November 7-9, 2022. Remember, as it has always been for GBSN Beyond, one registration to attend in person means all your colleagues and students can join us online for the Social Logistics Challenge and Micro-Simulation Development Lab, as well as the conference. 

Dan LeClair, CEO

Dan LeClair was named CEO of the Global Business School Network (GBSN) in February of 2019. Prior to GBSN, Dan was an Executive Vice President at AACSB International, an association and accrediting organization that serves some 1,600 business schools in more than 100 countries. His experience at AACSB includes two and half years as Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer, seven years as Chief Operating Officer, and five years as Chief Knowledge Officer. A founding member of the Responsible Research in Business and Management (RRBM) initiative, Dan currently participates on its working board. He also serves in an advisory capacity to several organizations and startups in business and higher education. Before AACSB, Dan was a tenured associate professor and associate dean at The University of Tampa.

Dan played a lead role in creating a think-tank joint venture between the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD) and AACSB and has been recognized for pioneering efforts in the formation of the UN’s Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME), where he served on the Steering Committee for many years. Dan has also participated in industry-level task forces for a wide range of organizations, including the Chartered Association of Business Schools, Graduate Management Admission Council, Executive MBA Council, and Aspen Institute’s Business and Society Program.

Widely recognized as a thought leader in management education, Dan is the author of over 80 research reports, articles, and blogs, and has delivered more than 170 presentations in 30 countries. As a lead spokesperson for reform and innovation in management education, Dan has been frequently cited in a wide range of US and international newspapers, magazines, and professional publications, including the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, New York Times, China Daily, Forbes, Fast Company, and The Economist. Dan earned a PhD from the University of Florida writing on game theory.