“Finally, a global business school goes local.” About 15 years ago that was my reply to a reporter when she asked me about a new program by well-known US business school. Funded by an alumnus, the program was to connect MBA student teams to small businesses in the economically distressed neighborhood surrounding school. I tried to explain the subtly of my statement (and that many lesser-known schools had similar programs for many years). Needless to say, I wasn’t quoted in the story.
I’ve thought about that call several times over the last couple of years. Could the covid pandemic cause business schools to pull back from globalization in the long term? After all, internationally mobile students and faculty have always been the lifeblood of globalization in higher education, and both dropped precipitously during the pandemic. At the same time, I’ve seen first-hand how much business schools have been doing for local businesses throughout the pandemic, not only to survive but also to #buildbackbetter.
I don’t think we are seeing the end of globalization. Not at all. In business, I believe the process of globalization will continue marching forward despite the setbacks of recent years. Simply put, there still is too much untapped value. That said, I believe the underlying sources of value have been changing and impacting the way businesses—and business schools—think about globalization. I want to call attention to two such changes that have been particularly important to our work at the Global Business School Network.
Like many other things today, the first change has been driven by advances in technology. In business, globalization has long centered on large multinational companies and their global supply chains. Scale and efficiency were key drivers and technology played an important role. Today, newer technological advances are empowering small and medium-sized businesses to also trade across borders. Relatively new developments, such as smart phones, 3D printing, (exponentially growing) e-commerce platforms, and the emergence of AI, new financial models, and blockchain applications, are leveling the playing field and unlocking the potential of SME’s in a global marketplace.
In addition to educating global supply chain professionals for large corporations, many business schools are focusing on empowering local entrepreneurs and scaling small businesses, helping them to grow by looking beyond their borders for customers and suppliers, navigating the regulations, dealing with cultural differences, and more. Similarly, business scholars are generating new insights to inform these businesses as well as the policies that affect them. Success means more inclusive globalization.
This new globalization requires a different set of approaches. Business schools need to create (and facilitate) new types of international connections, prepare different types of learners with new international experiences, and build new research methods and agendas. Some business schools are going beyond and facilitating access to necessary financial resources and infrastructure, such as more secure Internet and maker labs.
For its part, GBSN is partnering with Deutsche Post DHL to enable and empower SMEs in developing countries for cross-border commerce. In the pilot phase, GBSN has been working with 13 of its member schools to match 25 inaugural GoTrade Fellows to SME leaders in Cameroon, Uganda, Ecuador, and Colombia. The Fellows and SME leaders will participate together in a learning journey, as well as work together to build cross-border trade. Without much publicity, we received 100 applications for the 25 slots!
The second change impacting the globalization of management education is the urgency regarding climate change and social justice, as well as other challenges reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals. As business schools move beyond shareholder primacy to drive action on the SDGs, they’ve begun to think differently about globalization. Only a decade ago, my conversations with deans about globalization were mostly focused narrowly on competitive positioning, revenue generation, and reputation building. When schools partnered with others across borders, it was all about the strategy—it was about collaborating to compete.
By collaborating across borders on climate change (see, for example, Business Schools for Climate Leadership), we can improve our research and increase our influence. By partnering to provide our students with meaningful learning experiences in other countries, we can motivate more of them to pursue careers in government or NGOs. By connecting across sectors, we help our students to take a broader view of the whole system when addressing business challenges.
Today, my conversations about globalization are more often about the positive impact on society.
GBSN is connecting schools from different countries with business and NGOs for collective action on challenging societal issues. For example, we’re partnering with Ecobank Transnational and academic members to empower women-led SMEs in across Africa. We’re working with the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) to improve anti-corruption and compliance training in Indonesia and Nigeria. And we are collaborating with the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WCBSD) to build the Demand Generation Alliance to steer consumer preferences towards more nutritious and sustainable foods.
The two changes discussed above are expanding, rather than contracting, the need for global business education and research. From a career development perspective, cross-cultural agility is a skill no longer reserved for the set of graduates who go to work in multinational organizations—or private for-profit organizations for that matter. Business founders need to understand the changing context and emerging opportunities in order to succeed.
We still need student and faculty mobility but are beginning to see it in a different light, as a means to an end rather than the end itself, and to understand how technology can create more value from travel. By leveraging digital platforms to build more internationally inclusive research labs and classrooms we can develop better, more innovations solutions to global challenges—and do it with a smaller carbon footprint.
It’s not the end of globalization we are witnessing, but rather the beginning of a new era, a more responsible one that enables business schools to be a stronger force for good. The new globalization places business schools at the nexus of business, government, and civil society and positions them to play a leadership role in alleviating poverty, taking climate action, improving global health, protecting human rights, and more.
Dan LeClair, CEO
Global Business School Network
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.