The Principles of Responsible Management Education Chapter Africa moves us closer to the SDGs

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The New York-based United Nations Global Compact Principles of Responsible Management Education (PRME) was the subject of one of the sessions of the AUC Business Forum held last month, with panelists including members PRME Secretariat alongside PRME members from around Africa.

PRME’s prime focus is building awareness of sustainability and SDG principles in business schools and universities around the world, ensuring prospective business leaders are empowered and prepared to make decisions in alignment with environmental and social responsibility. A newly inaugurated Africa Chapter also works to boost collaboration between business schools and universities, tackling the challenges and opportunities unique to the continent.

Head PRME Secretariat Mette Morsing referred to the broader shift to responsible business management education, as mandated by then-UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. Under this mandate, PRME came into existence to create a global movement that today stands at over 800 business schools and with 17 chapters across the world.

“I think it is important in our educational experiences that we think about how we put society at the center of the stakeholder model. In much of our teaching, we had the corporation at the center of the stakeholder model. What would happen if [it were instead] society? If we create the kind of mindset for our students that it is actually society [we are meant to serve], then we are there to serve as leaders and also of course, as educators,” Morsing, an expert in sustainability management and corporate social responsibility, argues.

She also refers to the “warfare language” she finds used in many business textbooks. “If I look up on a lot of the strategy textbooks I have on my personal bookshelf, a lot of that language is what some of our colleagues has called almost a warfare language. It is about conquer. It’s about attack. It’s about win over the others. It’s about battle,” she explains. As an alternative, she proposes changing the business education language to one of “co-creation”, encouraging the value of partnership and doing things together. Building on this, Morsing also says it’s important that business school students, in this mindset shift, learn to capitalize on skills from other disciplines, building on the potential interconnections between furthering human rights or green investments and the financial analysis skillset that students might pick up in a business school classroom.

PRME Global Chapter Council’s South Africa-based Morris Mthombeni pointed to the parallels this argument has with the importance of standing up in the face of global crises such as the coronavirus pandemic or the war in Ukraine. “At business schools, universities that are part of this chapter have an important role to play in saying we can say no to tyranny but not just one type of tyranny…pushing back against these tyrannies,” he says, in alignment with PRME’s key principles, including community, with a view on transitioning to a more just and inclusive society.

This transition should include moving business schools from being information-based to knowledge and insight-based, shifting focus aspects to value creation. Echoing this, Dean of the AUC Business School Sherif Kamel says, emphasizing the importance of balancing shareholder interests with societal impact as part of the curriculum, “business schools are part of an ecosystem. And unless those bridges are built with the other constituencies and business schools, how would that impact the community?”

Meanwhile, Sammy Bonsu from the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration, who is also Chair of the PRME Africa Chapter Founding Committee in Ghana, noted the importance of deep-seated support for sustainability as a driver for economic growth and development, which he describes as “essential.” Like the other speakers, he noted the importance of community and society in stakeholder engagement, and the role this would have in prospectively furthering African equality, preservation, peace, and prosperity. “We are part of the global world and collaboration involvement with various activities around us and within us are necessary to facilitate this movement, helping engage all of us on the continent within and between countries,” Bonsu highlights.

To make this possible, Accounting Lecturer at the Strathmore Business School and member of the PRME Africa Chapter Founding Committee in Kenya, Mumbi Wachira, emphasized the importance of partnerships for policy advisory aligning with the sustainable development agenda. Advocacy, she explains, helps build those partnerships in the right direction. She also noted the importance of PRME’s regional hubs on the continent, considering Africa’s vastness, as well as its diversity in languages and cultures. Some ideas she mentions include encouraging students to think about how they can build businesses that solve social challenges or embed shared values. This includes global compact local networks, as well as initiatives such as Kenya’s SDG innovators challenge for future business leaders.

“Many African countries have recognized their diasporas as a critical constituent. And so really, we must applaud PRME Chapter Africa for doing the right thing to recognize this important constituent in its governance structure. We are a diverse group of people living in different continents. But we represent a huge reservoir of human social knowledge,” notes Judy Muthuri from the Nottingham University Business School, referring to the importance of diasporic communities in these debates, particularly with the massive communities of African origin living outside Africa.

These diasporic communities can also add much value since many Africans abroad work in the fields of sustainability, ethics, social responsibility, governance, and ethical leadership. Many of these scholars conduct interdisciplinary research about Africa and would have much value to offer in collaboration with their contemporaries.

Watch the full session:

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