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GBSN Highlights from 2020 and Looking Ahead to 2021

We held our annual Members Meeting last Thursday, 3 December, with more than 50 participants from 30 countries. As with anything that GBSN does, the meeting was designed to be interactive and thought provoking. The agenda included a pre-meeting for Asian members, two networking breakout groups, an insightful presentation on “Skill, Reskill and Upskill – The Future of the Business School” by Andrew Crisp co-founder of CarringtonCrisp, and an enlightening visioning exercise led by Sanjeev Khagram, Director General and Dean at Thunderbird School of Global Management.

The Annual Members Meeting also provides a moment to reflect on the work of GBSN and look forward. One of my colleagues, Nicole Zefran, and I took a little time to speak about highlights from current year and plans as we move into the next one. We would prefer to look further ahead, perhaps 3-5 years, but nowadays that seems like an especially long time. This blog summarizes our presentation.

Our presentation was framed by GBSN’s strategic direction, which we introduced at last year’s meeting hosted by Nova SBE on their spectacular campus overlooking the sea in Carcavelos, Portugal. In short, we are building on GBSN’s extraordinary history as a “project-driven development organization” to become a “purpose-driven network organization.” Four sets of initiatives are driving this transformation.

  1. Strengthening the network through size, diversity, and connectivity

The network is our most valuable asset and we have and will continue to invest in developing it. Network strength comes partly from size and we are excited about the growing interest worldwide in joining the GBSN community to pursue its mission. In addition to size, strength also comes from diversity. This year’s additions to GBSN come from India, France, China, Canada, Japan, Sweden, Switzerland, Netherlands, Australia, Colombia, Ghana, Morocco, Malaysia, and the United States.

There were many firsts in the group, including first members from Japan (NUCB Business School) and Malaysia (Asia School of Business), and our first corporate member (Ecobank Academy). Three of the new member schools are relatively young and will work together with our support to accelerate development. Finally, we are excited about engaging the US-based Western Governors University to learn from their pioneering work in competency-based learning.

A large family doesn’t have much power if nobody talks to each other. Likewise, to achieve our vision we must continuously expand and reinforce the connections between schools and people in the network. Our objective is a network that connects together like Velcro, with multiple hooks and loops between organizations. This year we launched our member portal to support member interactions with each other and with GBSN. While we have long way to go, these efforts are off to a great start.

2. Building programs that engage students, faculty, and administrative leaders

A strong network offers (and is reinforced by) programs that engage members—their students, faculty, and administrative leaders. For GBSN, these programs are designed to simultaneously create learning and positively impact our society in line with our mission. That is, our programs should be engaging experiences, relevant to sustainable development, and impactful.

This year, for example, we offered our first international student team competition. We built the HUMLOG Challenge with the Hanken School of Economics’ Humanitarian Logistics and Supply Chain Research Institute. More than 400 students formed 120 teams representing schools that span six continents registered to consider local medical or food supply chain problems and offer feasible solutions. The winning team offered a water supply chain solution in La Guajira, Colombia and represents Universidad de Los Andes School of Management. The second place team came from WU – Vienna University of Economics and Business in Austria and the third place team came from the Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston.

The initial experience was so successful that we are working on our next competition. It will focus on Africa and be offered in partnership with Peaqs, an innovative learning platform that combines a project development process with a virtual stock market engine for peer feedback. Please let us know if your school is interested in being involved and supportive. Also in 2021, we are working on plans to supplement the experiential learning programs of member schools through partnerships with a couple of very large international companies. More on these programs to come.

For faculty, this year we’re completing our first experience with a small grant program initiative. GBSN and the SWIFT Institute partnered to support the development of three case studies looking at cybersecurity and wholesale banking in emerging economies. A team from Chandaria School of Business at United States International University in Kenya won the grant and have submitted the final cases. We also ran our first Faculty Simulation Lab in partnership with Capsim to develop regionally-relevant microsimulations to drive meaningful education in the developing world. Congratulations to the team form Ashesi University in Ghana for winning first prize for their simulation on “Ethics in International Mining.”

This year we launched Cross-Border Collabs for administrative leaders at GBSN member institutions. The meetings happen on the first Thursday of every month. The idea is to bring our community together on specific topics and, most importantly, create opportunities for leaders to connect with peers globally. We are currently building the agenda for 2021 and, as always, will curate the most important topics through conversations with members.

Collabs work hand-in-hand with our learning communities. This year we quietly piloted this initiative with help from Lancaster University Management School (LUMS) to build a community of Entrepreneurs-in-Residence programs, starting with schools in the US, Brazil, Ghana, Egypt, and India, as well as the UK. The objectives are to exchange best practices, share resources, and facilitate collective action for sustainable development. Interest in forming learning communities is already growing, with new ones emerging in human rights, sustainable energy, healthcare, and community-engaged learning.

3. Becoming a thought leader for role of business schools in sustainable development

To achieve its mission, GBSN must assert a thought leadership role as it relates to inclusive and sustainable development. This means helping business schools to find their way in a changing environment while expanding their positive impact on society, especially in emerging economies. This year, GBSN took a big step in that direction by being quick to introduce a webinar series to help schools to cope with COVID-19. For example, our webinar series on the subject generated more than 3000 participants in April and May, 2020. And our continuing interview series on the World After Covid has generated many useful insights for schools.

In conjunction with leaders track of GBSN Beyond and with valuable support from GMAC® and CarringtonCrisp, we ran leadership roundtables on the future of experiential learning (led by Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, Asia School of Business, UNC Kenan Flagler, University of Illinois, MIT Sloan, and George Washington University), role of business schools in building more inclusive societies (led by Fundação Dom Cabral and University of Stellenbosch), and entrepreneurship ecosystems and business schools (led by INSEAD and MIT Sloan). The final reports are now available to the public.

GBSN was also pleased to contribute to “The Case for Human Rights in Business Education—A Tool Kit” and encourage business schools everywhere to consider adopting its recommendations. Look for GBSN to continue supporting this initiative being led by the Centers for Business and Human Rights at NYU Stern and at the Geneva School Economics and Management.

In the first quarter of 2021, GBSN and Ecobank Academy will convene the Talent for Africa Forum. In this unique, virtual forum, speakers will focus on the future that Africa wants and the power of its people to achieve it. The Forum highlights the importance of leadership, management, and entrepreneurship across sectors and across the continent, and aims to explore the challenges of building education and development capacity and aligning it with the needs of a rapidly changing continent.

4. Expanding our project work

Prior to 2019 we achieved our mission primarily through project work, which typically involves external funding over a finite horizon to build management education capacity, expand education to underserved communities, and the like. These projects were challenging and impactful, and we did many of them over the years with help from a network of the best business schools in the world. By strengthening that network, especially the multi-sectoral partners, we have been increasing our capacity to do such projects. We have three projects in the works for 2021.

First, we initiated a project to build a mobile (smart phone) version of the highly-successful Management Development Institute (MDI) program supported by Johnson & Johnson, which has provided leadership and management residential training for front-line health care workers since 2006. The main objectives of the project are to build on the legacy of MDI, while expanding access to it for nurses and midwives and increasing its relevance to national health plans as well as learners. Ongoing MDI trainings would thus be more accessible, resilient, and adaptable to evolving national health plans. Potential partners for this project include the World Continuing Education Alliance, Amref, Lagos Business School, Groupe ISM, University of Cape Town, and Nova SBE.

Second, we have been mapping out a collaboration with the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) on a project to improve understanding of how corporate anti-corruption training impacts companies that implement anti-corruption initiatives, to harness the research of business schools around the globe in developing anti-corruption programs, and to provide feedback that will refine CIPE’s anti-corruption program design and development.

Finally, GBSN has been working on an initiative with the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) to convene stakeholders across sectors to drive action in the enabling environment—one that delivers the vision of people globally desiring and choosing nutritious and sustainable foods.

In our report, we also talked about and introduced the hard-working, dedicated staff team and spent some time unpacking GBSN Beyond, our hugely successful reimagination of our annual global conference. The event proved to be a great platform to introduce several of the initiatives described above. Overall, we have continued to move forward methodically with our transformation and increasing the positive impact of our network.

Needless to say, 2020  has been a challenging year everywhere. Throughout the pandemic, however, I have seen business schools step up to support their communities, innovate to solve seemingly intractable problems, take a lead role in providing credible information, and more. We are especially proud of our member schools for continuing to put in the time and energy to make a difference in and for the developing world. We have been proud to amplify that difference. Serving the GBSN community and working with such a dedicated team has been an honor and pleasure for me personally. It has been hard work, as it should be. But at the moment there is no place I’d rather be. We have so much good to do together. I’m looking forward to 2021.

Dan LeClair is CEO of the Global Business School Network (GBSN). 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.