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Message from Morsing The Role of 'Ideas'
03 September, 2021 New York, United States

The Role of 'Ideas'

"There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come." - Victor Hugo

Dear Friends of PRME,

Some of you will still remember the significant quote from 1953 from one of the world’s most influential economists about the significant role of ‘ideas’ for shaping the way we as human beings choose to transform the world:

Indeed the world is run by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences are usually the slaves of some defunct economist . . . It is ideas, not vested interests, which are dangerous for good or evil”. (Keynes, Economist, Professor, Cambridge University, 1953, p. 306).

Management schools are one of the most significant global forces for shaping those ‘ideas’ that transform the world. A couple of years ago, former Dean of Harvard Business School, Nitin Nohria, again reminded us about the huge responsibility upon us as educators of the future generation of the world’s leaders to set a tone for those ‘ideas’. He said that “today’s business school students who don’t identify and correct what they are doing wrong are tomorrow’s chief executives making the same mistakes with a large company” (Nohria, 2019). Through education, profound norm-setting, and ways of analytical framing of problems and solutions, and not least role-modeling, more than 13.000 business schools in the world (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, 2011) educate future business leaders on a daily basis how to navigate in the global and local markets: how to manage, what to decide, and whom to impact.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reminds us that the world is not on track, as he urgently invites leadership education to engage more towards sustainable development. One main reason why the world is not on track has to do with the concerning scarcity of leaders in the world who are willing to move corporate decision-making towards progressing societal betterment at the pace and direction needed. While ‘sustainable development’ today is an ingrained part of most leaders’ vocabulary, it still seems that their notion of sustainable development rests on the ‘idea’ that ‘sustainable development is a self-organizing property of market based economic systems’ (TWI2050 Report), and accordingly the market will fix sustainable development. But as stated so well in the TWI2050 Report: “Market-based economic growth alone is rarely socially inclusive and environmentally stable. Without countervailing policies, markets are often reasonably efficient but also highly unfair making the rich richer and the poor poorer. Moreover, producers and consumers rarely have the incentive to protect the air, water, soils, and climate, since most of the damage they cause is incurred by others, including future generations, rather than themselves” (p. 11). In other words, markets thrive on exploring public goods while under providing society with new public goods. “The challenge is therefore”, as stated in the TWI2050 Report, “to re-embed markets and shape them towards the sustainability goals” (TWI2050Report, p.11). To do that we need leaders with the right ‘ideas’.

As leadership educators, it seems that there is still some room for improvement for us to advance the right ‘ideas’ in the minds and frameworks of our leaders. Two years ago a report on ‘CEO Success’ revealed that for the first time in a decade “more CEOs had to leave their job due to ethical lapses and misconduct (39%) than due to poor financial performance (35%) or conflicts with the board (13%).” (Rasche, 2019). Such analysis indicates that there is a growing need to include ethics, responsible management and long-term sustainable development as the ‘main idea’ of leadership education. Such analysis also reinforces the importance of PRME’s Vision.

As generators of novel scientific research and based on a platform of research-based education, business schools are trusted by the general public to set ‘the tone’ for future responsible decision-making – beginning in that leadership classroom.

So, this is just to say – or to reinforce – that there is now more than ever before a need for the ‘idea’ of PRME and the Principles of PRME to set a global agenda to advance responsible management and to support the transformation of the SDGs from words into action.

And in this moment, on that journey, I am delighted to see how deans, faculty and students in the PRME community are surfacing a discussion of those fundamental ‘ideas’ that govern leadership education, leadership theories on how the world should transform, and leadership willingness to take in alternative ways of thinking about how the role of business in society may be enhanced towards more prosperity.

While there is a lot of work ahead of us to make this happen, I am increasingly optimistic that the PRME community will continue to be a pioneer of transformational ideas and will continue to empower higher education, faculty, and especially leadership students to understand that the time has come to roll out the basic ‘idea’ that business’s main purpose is to advance planetary and societal prosperity.

Warm regards,

Mette Morsing

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