Bleeding heart, bottom line

Author: Mendoza College

In recent decades, a rapprochement has occurred between former foes. Seeing the potential to accelerate social and environmental change, many non-governmental organizations and activists have moved from campaigning against companies to forming partnerships with them. Companies have also been tapping into the expertise of NGOs on social and environmental issues affecting their businesses. And now, business schools have started to do the same.

Much of the impetus behind the formation of these alliances has come from NGOs but, so far, few business schools have looked to the NGO sector to help them develop social and environmental content for their sustainability related programs and electives.

“At business schools, we claim that we’re leading corporations but in fact we tend to follow them,” says Gregory Unruh, professor of global business and director of the Lincoln Centre for Ethics in Global Management at Thunderbird School of Global Management. “This is another example of that.”

This is not to say that business schools and NGOs have been avoiding each other – far from it. A wide range of academic relationships and informal alliances exists between the two.

In the 1990s for example, the World Resources Institute, a U.S. environmental organization, established the Business Environment Learning and Leadership initiative. Through the initiative, WRI works with business education programs such as Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management in the U.S. to promote new strategies.

More recently, some schools have seen NGOs as partners in developing the social and environmental impact internships that are increasingly popular with students. University of Notre Dame Mendoza (College of Business), Indiana, for example, gives students the opportunity to take up summer internships with NGOs working in Africa. Other schools work with Climate Corps, an internship program run by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a US environmental group. Climate Corps places students in companies to develop energy-efficiency strategies.

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