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Improving Access to Business Education is Not Enough

Have you heard about the best-selling author and professor who is building his own business school? He’s bringing in some of his friends, other superstar business professors, to teach short, intense courses called “sprints”, which are open to anyone. These “sprints” will attract tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of learners. The venture will disrupt higher education and earn a ton of money “making elite business education accessible to all.”

I’m rooting for our education entrepreneurs and others building online education for the masses. Making business education more accessible is a good thing—the first three words in the GBSN mission are “to improve access.” The demand for management education will continue to grow beyond our capacity to provide it. Great business professors and their insights and ideas can have a profound impact on society, as well as on business and the careers of individual learners, even at scale. 

What if superstar professors could indeed reach a massive global audience? Are “MOOCs” and online “sprints” the only answers we need for our mission? Unfortunately, as I often tell the GBSN team, “if we just improve access to management education, it is not enough.” Expanding access is not sufficient to achieve our vision “for the developing world to have the talent it needs to generate prosperity” or for our mission, which is “to improve access to quality, locally relevant management education for the developing world” when written in full. 

I have written before about the challenge of local relevance. Three years ago I started my monthly blog by asking “What if we took a group of high performing managers from Canadian paper mills and placed them in the Hawassa Industrial Park in Ethiopia. Would they succeed?” What do you think? What about Chinese managers in a glass factory in Ohio? If this question interests you, check out the documentary American Factory.

The point is that cross-border differences in business and management limit the potential of education to scale globally. Some go further and say that because of these differences, especially cultural ones, bringing education from the Global North (with technology or not) to the Global South can do more damage than good and could distract leaders from the real task of building local capacity for business and management education. 

There is another nagging question about what has been taught in business schools. GBSN was created and built on the belief that management education is critical for international development, which is about enriching lives by reducing poverty, improving health, increasing access to education, protecting the environment, and more. Yet, business education was built on a different paradigm, one in which business prioritizes profit maximization and government and NGOs are responsible for international development. As we transitioned from the MDGs to the SDGs, all societal sectors, including business, have become key development actors and need to work together. Many GBSN schools have been leading the way in rethinking curricula and partnerships for the SDGs.

That’s why so much of the GBSN agenda is about responsibility, sustainability, and ESG. Simply expanding access to what schools teach in more developed countries will not be enough to help leaders in less developed countries build more inclusive and sustainable communities. Indeed, it is possible that the reverse could be more beneficial. It is not just about access to education; part of our job now is to work with other organizations, such as EFMD and AACSB to rethink the foundations of business curricula and research to achieve our development mission. 

Much of this work is being led by GBSN Impact Communities. For example, the Business & Human Rights Impact Community has been making the case and facilitating the research needed to strengthen human rights education in business schools. The Sustainable Finance & ESG Investing Impact Community convened a Seed Course to support efforts in rethinking finance education in the Global South.

Finally, improving access to education is not enough because we also need to ensure that the work of business schools translates into meaningful international development progress. The way GBSN used to achieve its mission was through grants—we were a project-driven development organization. Now, we still do projects but can be described more as a purpose-driven network organization. This means that we must build the connective tissue between business schools, helping them to work together more effectively for international development, and between business schools and other sectors, to help business schools to lead beyond their organizations

GBSN Beyond is designed to support these two initiatives: (1) rethinking education and research to address the issues that matter for inclusive and sustainable development and (2) building the platform to support the societal impact of business schools. At the in-person conference, 7-9 November in Amsterdam, we position business schools at the nexus between business, government, and civil society, and structure sessions to help business schools work more effectively together. 

Leading up to the in-person conference, we engage student teams in the Social Logistics Challenge in which teams apply supply chain and logistics knowledge and skills to build solutions for the SDGs. We also partner with Capsim for the Micro-Simulation Development Lab and with EFMD for the Going Beyond Awards in which business schools share their work to build more inclusive and sustainable communities. 
We look forward to seeing you there. Remember, as always for GBSN Beyond, to emphasize our commitment to inclusivity and access, the base registration package includes one ticket to the in-person conference AND unlimited virtual access to both the pre-conference track experiences and the conference program for the institution’s community.

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.