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Message from Morsing What's the tone from the top?
30 November, 2020 New York, United States

What's the tone from the top?

Over the past four months I have had the pleasure of engaging in aspirational panels with PRME Signatory Deans, in inspiring ‘PRME Deans Dialogue’ interviews, and in conversations with Deans on the PRME Board. Last year I also interviewed PRME Signatory Deans, as I prepared the PRME Strategy Review 2019. Having navigated in the field of responsible management, CSR and sustainable development for almost twenty years, I cannot NOT note the change of the Deans’ approach over these many years. A remarkable change is occurring. Not just over the past ten years, but more so over the past 3-5 years. Deans are so much more outspoken and goal-oriented with regards to the need for their schools and universities to step up and address urgent global challenges such as inequalities and climate change.

Irrespective if this is due to students putting a demand on educational programs, accreditation agencies, ranking bodies, governments or business urging business school Deans to focus on sustainable development - it is happening. Sustainable development is entering strategies, policies and curriculum. And I am not naïvely saying that an increased focus on sustainable development in business school strategies and policies means that business schools are immediately redirecting all of their resources and attention to actually act on such promises and deliver on aspirations. But I am saying that prominent Deans are putting a visible emphasis on sustainable development (e.g. Walsh, forthcoming). We should follow that trend with great curiosity, push and hope.

While this is promising, I am fully aware that as a Dean who is signing up to PRME, you are likely to already support the Six Principles of PRME and to have your school, your board, your provost and other significant stakeholders, supporting a trajectory toward sustainable development in education, research, and partnership programs. And while I am aware that there are still many business schools and universities working out how to define their schools’ engagement in the SDG journey, it may still be inspirational to hear what some of the experienced Deans have to say about that journey.

From the North and the South, I have myself been very inspired to hear business school Deans agree on a new need for at least three important targets to reinforce business school students in their understanding of their responsibility in the world:

  • For the World

To educate students to be responsible citizens, and to state that the world is not there for us to take advantage of, but we are there to take care of and advance the world. Hence, the ‘for’ the world emphasis. As one Dean said very precisely: "at the heart of our institutional ambition is to create not the best leaders in the world of the world but the best leaders for the world and society"

  • Inclusivity

To educate students "although many future leaders may come from privilege, it is important that they care about all demographics and thus build institutions that care.” Businesses are powerful and perhaps too powerful in some areas of the world, say more Deans, and business schools have a big role to play to develop the right kind of moral leadership to accommodate for business being more inclusive. Driving a good business for the purposeful betterment of us all demands an educational system that “implies ethics, implies environmental consciousness, implies balance, implies being a responsible corporate citizen to a large number of different segments.”

  • Empathy

To educate students to ‘put yourself in the place of the stranger’. Businesses are navigating in undefined territories with new opportunities and risks. Being able to ‘sense’ how other people and unknown issues may emerge and to ‘listen’ to new concerns, and accordingly, new opportunities are deemed new core skills by Deans these days. I think empathy is a core skill to master as a human being. But can I ask you: when did you first hear that from a Business School Dean?

Something new is looming. And some of this is new tones from the Dean's Desk. In January 2021, we will release a new ‘PRME Deans Readings’ for you to be inspired by what Deans are reading and finding inspiration from these days.

Take care.

Mette Morsing

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