Business schools leading change: new climate action horizons explored by UNPRME at AUC

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If you’re one of many people concerned about climate change and its impact on the future, then you’re probably thinking about carbon emissions, and there is a chance you know it’s the largest companies in the world that are responsible for the largest amount of carbon emissions. In fact, just 100 companies are responsible for a whole 71 percent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that have been causing global warming in the world since 1998, according to a report by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP). This clearly shows the sheer impact of businesses on the planet, and the major responsibility that comes with being a large market player and business leader.

Planting the seed of a strong sense of responsibility in individuals towards their planet starts in early stages, and becomes indispensable in university education, especially if it’s the business leaders of the future that you’re teaching. “One in three undergraduate students in the world graduate every year with a degree in business, law, management, or economics, making business by far the largest study in the world. It accounts for 70 million students a year. So we have a huge responsibility on how we educate these future leaders about successful business,” says Mette Morsing, the secretariat of the United Nations Principles for Responsible Management Education (UNPRME) Chapter Africa. The role of business schools in climate action was first brought under the spotlight in COP26 in 2021 as a topic of discussion and continues to be of great importance in 2023.

Realizing the role business schools play in shaping the future, American University in Cairo (AUC) School of Business hosted the first annual general meeting of PRME Chapter Africa at the AUC New Cairo Campus.
The roundtable meeting, consisting of two panel discussions, tackled untapped horizons for deeper climate action that starts at the roots. Panelists gave the attendees an insight into PRME’s achievements, objectives and outlook and explored new ways to contribute to a better future.

Sherwat Elwan, associate professor of operations management at the AUC School of Business and chair of PRME Chapter Africa, stated that PRME has 22 communicating member business schools across Africa. She explained that these member schools write letters of commitment to PRME regarding the annual contribution of their climate action. “They also share their information progress (SIP) report, which gives detailed information on what the institution is doing in the realm of responsible management education, including curriculum, teaching, research, students, environment, society, and other aspects,” she added.

General meeting of PRME Chapter Africa at the AUC New Cairo Campus.

Mette Morsing explained that PRME is mainly concerned with four dimensions on a broad scale. She says, “The first is about curriculum change. There is a strong need to review the curriculum we teach at business schools and what the success of a business means, as well as what it means to be a successful business leader. There has been a lot of change in those definitions over the past years. The second dimension is about skill sets. What is the kind of skills businesses expect business school students to be equipped with when they leave the classrooms and become leaders. As educators we also need another kind of skill set to bring into the classroom. The third dimension is about practical relevance. Students say that they don’t identify with the cases, theories and frameworks they are studying as they are brought from another region. We need to make sure that the challenges students work with in the classroom becomes something they can engage with on a practical level. The fourth dimension has to do with impact. I call this ‘global impact’. I think we’ve been too vague in social science as business schools in defining our impact on the world, as opposed to our friends in engineering science or natural science who know their impact on the world and how they serve to better the world. As business schools, I think we have not developed that collective narrative about how we can contribute to the world. PRME has a responsibility to help with that. It’s a huge opportunity for us as PRME community”.

In his intervention at the meeting, AUC School of Business dean Sherif Kamel, said that PRME reflects what the AUC School of Business is all about. “PRME also reflects the role of all of business schools and management education. PRME chapter Africa is an ideal platform for us to discuss various challenges, but, more importantly, to create an ecosystem where we can come up with solutions and transform challenges into opportunities,” he added.

Within the framework of the continuous effort to encourage future business leaders to be responsible, an issue that greatly touches with the initiative to encourage business leaders to run responsible businesses in COP27, and take climate change into consideration, PRME had an eventful 2022 and made great accomplishments in this regard. Mumbi Wachira, professor at Strathmore University Business School and vice-chair of PRME Chapter Africa, said that some of the top accomplishments last year included the launch of the Chapter in March 2022, issuing the Chapter’s governance document (which defines the purpose of PRME Chapter Africa), and launching the Business Schools for Climate Leadership (BS4CL) Africa in November 2022, a pre-COP27 event that focused on promoting climate leadership in schools and took place at the AUC School of Business. “This year we are keen on steering forward sustainability as we have already been doing, but in a thematic area that the institution is taking on for 2023,” added Wachira.

For the new year, PRME’s plans for growth include continuously building relationships that support the growth of the Chapter, developing a targeted plan for member growth, as well as developing ideas for events and activities for members and prospective members for Africa at the regional and country level, and developing regular interaction, with a focus on pedagogy, teaching and faculty needs.

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