Dean of the Sprott School of Business on the role of business schools in social impact

On 23 April, EFMD Global hosted an online panel discussion called Reflections on Social Impact During a Global Pandemic. The panel brought together leaders from business schools worldwide to talk about their view of social responsibility, their institutions’ goals and actions to make a positive impact, and how the COVID-19 pandemic affected those things. Dana Brown, Dean of Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business, participated on the panel discussing the role and the impact business schools have in their communities and at large. We thank Dana and Sprott School of Business for kindly letting us share their blog post about her experience.

Joining Dana on the panel were:

“Throughout my career, I have really been pushing the envelope of business school education and impact, creating change to encourage more inclusivity and openness in business schools, and definitely a more critical approach of our traditional models, theories and education – particularly those that promote the value and the practice of short-term profit at any cost,” Dana said in her opening remarks.

“I am a fierce opponent of businesses behaving badly, but I am an equally fierce proponent of business and commerce as drivers, or potential drivers, of positive social change.”

Dana explained that she fundamentally believes that it’s the responsibility of business schools to help ensure that businesses do the right thing while creating meaningful impact in society through education, research and community partnerships.

Research and initiatives

Over the past year at Sprott, faculty research and initiatives, such as the Sprott Student Consulting Group, have supported businesses in addressing challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Sprott has signed MOUs with local and international organisations to create significant impact in different communities. And, last fall, Sprott unveiled its new strategic plan, Vision 2025: Business for a Better World, committing to creating learning experiences and scholarship that harness the potential and opportunity for business to improve lives worldwide.

Views on the pandemic

Dana also reflected on how the ongoing pandemic has created a window of opportunity. She believes that there are times when we, as a society, have the ability to make things happen more effectively than at others – depending upon what’s happening in that moment vis-à-vis history, society, politics, economics etc.

“Right now, the mood of the world is in favour of social impact and social justice,” Dana said. “The pandemic has caused many of us to be reflective about the meaning in our jobs, about the role that we play as consumers and as citizens in bringing about positive change.”

“I think one of the greatest changes I have seen during this pandemic is a shift in thinking about issues related to the role of business in society. In so many ways the pandemic and the situation we find ourselves in is a result of bad leadership and bad policy. In many ways we’re unveiling some of that; unveiling the implications of political and economic policies and business practices that are driven by the goal of short-term profit, power, exclusion and self-interest.”

Dana believes that the right priorities in education could have prevented the business world from losing its way and prioritising the wrong things.

Positive outlook on the future

However, she said she remains optimistic about what comes next. There are many times when leaders of business schools have to navigate a complex array of interests and feel as if they have to compromise on strong statements about the responsibility of business – but now they can feel empowered. The mood of society and business will not only allow this now but also encourage it.

“Here in Canada, for example, many businesses are taking the agenda for inclusivity seriously, and this presents us with a great opportunity to do what we do best as educators,” she said. “Which is to harness the immense talents of individuals from diverse backgrounds and create opportunities for people to work together, to find a common language and common ground in the safe setting of an educational institution.”

“I feel that business schools, if we take up the mantle, can have genuine and positive impact in the way we rebuild our communities, societies and, indeed, our countries.”