How Business Can Address Societal Challenges

Recently, AACSB’s president and CEO, Tom Robinson, led a discussion on the AACSB Exchange related to the role business can potentially play in addressing the most significant challenges society faces.

In July, AACSB’s president and CEO, Tom Robinson, led a discussion in the AACSB Member Forum within the AACSB Exchange related to the role business can potentially play in addressing the most significant challenges society faces. This discussion drew from the Visioning theme of Shifting Roles of Management in Society. This theme explores the wants, needs, and aspirations of the people, industries, and societies that rely on effective and ethical business principles and processes. Given this rather large subject to work with, the ensuing conversation was rich with opinion and discourse.

Robinson initiated the conversation by posing the following question:

What specific "grand challenges" facing society can business rightfully lay claim to helping address? Or, what potential roles of business and management in society most interest you? In what way(s) will this most challenge the current typical business school model?

Within the conversation, four elements were suggested that are of key importance to today’s entrepreneurs and CEOs, including entrepreneurship, innovation, leadership, and responsible business operation. Business schools can play a role here by treating these four elements not as separate topics but rather as integrated, embedded themes throughout the curriculum.

With respect to the element of entrepreneurship, one participant purported that entrepreneurial activity has been on the rise within emerging economies, enabled by the power of information and communication technology. As such, there is a need to address the impediments facing entrepreneurs in their struggle to develop their businesses. Yet, these entrepreneurs (as well as CEOs and managing directors at existing firms) must understand that a balance is needed between the pursuit of strategic objectives (financially motivated) and “responsible business.”

Another contributor took a somewhat different stance, sharing that society ought to praise the good that business has done across the world, as well as highlight how business can play a role in reducing poverty, among other social endeavors.

One respondent shared that business schools themselves can play a significant role in the anti-corruption goals of businesses, specifically mentioning forensic accounting, financial loss identification, and the management of fraudulent managers as potential courses that can promote ethical behavior in business. Others were less confident in the role of the business school in this space, sharing that it is difficult to know whether students are able to internalize the lessons taught in ethically focused exercises.

The three Ps phrase “People, Planet, and Profits,” otherwise known as the triple bottom line (TBL), was put forth as a potential focal area for businesses by several discussion participants. Some business school coursework, including numerous capstone courses, has been created with a particular focus on the TBL. But, this idea was caveated with the growing need to focus more on the individuals living at the bottom of the pyramid (BoP), those who live on less than 5 USD per day. As such, “inclusive growth” was suggested as an additional area to include in the business school curriculum moving forward. One commenter pointed out that within certain emerging economies, where family business is more dominant, the issues of business ethics, fraud, corruption, and, more importantly, governance are invaluable. These topics must be embedded into all aspects of the curriculum.

All told, it was a rich discussion that provoked additional questions that will be explored throughout the course of the Visioning project. Already a new discussion has begun within the AACSB Member Forum. This thread focuses on alternatives to traditional degree programs. Join in the dialogue and share your thoughts. You can learn more about this topic, as well as other subjects related to the future of management education, at