How Should Business Schools in Africa Address Climate Change?

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How Should Business Schools in Africa Address Climate Change?

The physical features of the world and the lived reality of its populations are changing as a result of climate change. The systems that drive policy and action must evolve accordingly to respond to multifaceted climate challenges and indeed, the critical threat of both sudden and slow onset environmental catastrophe.

Education in general plays a significant role in shaping the minds and influencing the debates that lead to responses to challenges. Business schools specifically have a unique role to play as the patrons of knowledge passed between practitioners in the private sector, scholars, governments and policymakers.

Africa in particular is a continent that is rich in many ways, but at the same time challenged in many ways, as AUC School of Business’s Dean Sherif Kamel put it.

Kamel moderated the ‘Africa’s Climate Challenge and Business School Imperative’ webinar on May 22 to explore how Africa is affected by the threat of climate change and what business schools across the continent can do to find effective and contextual solutions to diverse and unique challenges.

The webinar, the first episode of the ‘Business Schools for Climate Leadership Africa’ series, invited three climate experts in different fields to share their perspectives.

A Disproportionate Threat

Climate scientist Olga Pilifosova explains that there are two categories of climate events. One is extreme weather events such as droughts, floods and fires, among others. These events are observed to be increasing in frequency and severity. The other is slow onset events that are taking place gradually, such as sea level rise and desertification.

Africa contributes just four percent of global carbon emissions while making up almost 18 percent of the world’s population, making it the lowest per capita emitting continent. Despite this fact, Africa is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, whether slow or sudden.

Pilifosova, who is the Manager of the Adaptation Review subdivision at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said that Africans disproportionately work in climate-exposed sectors. Over half of all employed workers in Sub-Saharan Africa work in agriculture. Policymakers recognize this vulnerability, as 23 African countries have submitted voluntary national adaptation plans, representing 42 percent of all plans submitted.

In terms of the capacity to cope with changes, Pilifosova notes, the continent varies in terms of economic capabilities. There are some upper-middle-income countries, such as Botswana and Namibia, as well as a large number of least-developed countries. Over a third of the population is under the extreme poverty line in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all approach,” Kamel says, “economies will face it at their own paces.”

For Mariam Allam, Lead of the Adaptation Agenda for High-Level Climate Champions, adaptation and resilience are Africa’s utmost priorities. However, promised public finance falls short, and the private sector provides a “minimal contribution,” she notes

Africa is caught in a debt crisis, with a debt-to-GDP ratio of over 60 percent, and the predominant instruments of climate finance only serve to exacerbate that debt further. There is a question of equity and fairness underlying issues like loss and damage and just transition, Allam says. Pilifosova pointed out that the costs of loss and damage in Africa may reach USD 440 billion by 2030.

Moreover, as the impact of climate change becomes more pronounced, the cost of adaptation rises significantly. There needs to be a conversation on de-risking and innovating finance integrated in national planning, Allam explains, and this is where business schools can come in: finding innovative solutions, financial engineering, and solving issues of ‘double tagging’ contributions.

The Responsibility of Business Schools in Africa

Business schools have more than just a role to play, they have a “responsibility” to do so as institutions that educate the business leaders of tomorrow, Dean Barend Erasmus of the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Pretoria says.

Business schools should be “very intentional” about how they teach climate change to potential climate leaders, teaching in innovative ways to reach desired outcomes, he explains. Such schools have a significant sphere of influence through their alumni network, but “if you don’t do the teaching right”, then this sphere will not achieve the desired impacts.

The key to Erasmus is adopting a systems perspective – gone are the days where climate change was one of many global crises with its own separate response. With interconnected challenges, “solutions can have disproportionately positive impacts”, he expresses. Kamel agrees, saying that climate change is a “holistic issue that affects all aspects of life” and needs to be addressed “horizontally […] away from silos that are subject-driven”.

When asked about possible best practices in the European Union that may be useful to African contexts, Pilifosova also points to the systems approach that pays a lot of attention to transboundary and cascading effects. Another practice to take inspiration from is articulating goals as “future landing zones” to measure progress not in what has been accomplished in the past, but in terms of what efforts are being taken to become better in the future.

One important area where business schools could play a role in countering the shortage of attention and funding given to Africa is in research; Erasmus notes that only three or four percent of global climate research is dedicated to Africa, and half of that goes to foreigners researching the continent. Pilifosova agrees, saying that there is a need for more investment in African studies by Africans to contribute to the peer-reviewed literature, and eventually the discourse.

“We need to tell our own stories” through the lens of Africa, Allam, on her part, expresses. “Research from outside is not embedded in the social context,” she added, as the unique social, political, and environmental challenges are located within the local communities.

Brokers of Solutions and Seeking True Transformation

Businesses don’t automatically speak the language of adaptation and resilience, so business schools must play the role of the bridge between businesses and government, Allam explains. “The key word is solutions.” Business schools must play the role of “brokers of solutions”.

“As a student not so long ago, I wish we had the right conversations with the right stakeholders,” she adds, emphasizing the need for finding solutions suited to regional and subregional contexts. Kamel agrees, saying academia can act as the mediator between the government and the private sector.

However, the Dean of AUC School of Business believes that business schools could do better and go beyond the “cosmetic” role climate currently plays in the curriculum of most schools. The goal of the American University in Cairo in the future will be to have every student who studies any subject be exposed to the subject of climate change.

Kamel asks how we could transform the learning experience, believing that the dynamics of the learning experience will soon exist the classroom in a significant way. “Very soon, but we’re not there yet.”

Erasmus highlights the important role of experiential learning as well as case studies in pursuing transformative learning. “Experiential learning changes your perspective […] Making policies for poly-crises is not simple.” There is a need to have students exposed to practical examples with real data.

However, he points out that more and better knowledge does not necessarily lead to better decisions; business schools have to push for better decisions as well when it comes to such an urgent matter such as climate change, already backed by ample evidence to support decisive action.

“Disruption and transformation are related concepts,” the Pretoria dean explains, as sudden change may take place when a certain threshold of participation is reached. Business schools can help reach that threshold.

But what does transformation really mean? Pilifosova poses this critical question to prompt a deeper reflection on goals and values. “As opposed to what?” she asks, “incremental [change] or business as usual?” Clearly, these two options are no longer viable given the current climate reality. Thus Pilifosova’s questions may be understood as questioning the notion of any alternative to transformation, as well as the very definition of transformation as used in the context of business.

“Is a cost-benefit analysis adequate in addressing intergenerational inequity?”, she asks. Contributing to transformation is not about tweaking, but changing fundamental values and viewpoints – Pilifosova believes this is where business schools come in. There is a prevalence of ‘silo thinking’ and a lack of a ‘we are in this together’ mindset, she notes, and says that there is a need for a change of mindset towards collective thinking beyond administrative boundaries, beyond subject boundaries and thinking of nature at the center.

Kamel agrees, saying business schools have tried over the past ten years or more to change the focus from shareholder’s interest to the stakeholder’s interest, but the progress made so far is still only scratching the surface – there is a need for a more fundamental change.

The climate crisis is as much about changing values, habits, and models of economic development, Allam says. It “lies in the heart of what business schools offer the global community.”

For Erasmus, “Business schools should not be thinking about what they are good at, business schools should think about what they are good for.” In this case, they should be good for changing the global climate trajectory, he concludes.

Whether it’s implementing case studies and experiential learning that integrates climate into a multifactorial environment, changing attitudes regarding the urgency of climate change, or opening up difficult conversations on the nature of business, business schools in Africa have a lot of important tools – and responsibilities – to advance the fight against climate change for the continent and the world.


To watch the full webinar click here:–MjHQBfWLfIKJPVgO.5PpUTOTHzcaGyl2O?canPlayFromShare=true&from=share_recording_detail&startTime=1716382834000&componentName=recplay&

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