Connecting With Stakeholders in Challenging Times

Article Icon Article
Monday, April 3, 2023
By Jim B. Fatzinger, Natasha Veltri
Photo by iStock/Dilok Klaisataporn
When COVID-19 made it difficult to engage with stakeholders, members of AACSB’s Metropolitan Business Schools Affinity Group tried new strategies.
  • The pandemic initially made it difficult for schools to interact with stakeholders, but emerging technologies offered new paths for engagement.
  • Business schools built deeper relationships with all important groups by launching initiatives aimed at corporate partners, community leaders, and student groups.
  • Schools also strengthened relationships by finding ways for students to meet with business leaders.

Business schools need to develop stronger connections with external entities to address real-world challenges through innovation and ensure that their learners are prepared to lead. That’s one of the key observations contained in AACSB’s 2022 Insights report, “Five Forces Driving the Future of Business Education.” Maintaining those connections became more difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic—but also more critical. As the report notes, “The global economy emerging from the pandemic has magnified the notion that sustainable relationships with competitors can create success for all involved.”

That point is echoed in a July 2020 article in the Academy of Management’s Learning and Education journal. Authors Danna Greenberg and Paul Hibbert remind readers that “the open, widespread collaboration that emerged within universities, across professional associations, and across peer networks was foundational to management academics’ ability to rapidly and effectively move to remote learning and to manage the early weeks of the pandemic.”

Finding the best ways to engage stakeholders was the central topic at a roundtable discussion that took place last year among members of AACSB’s Metropolitan Business School Affinity Group. Leaders of these schools, which are located in urban areas with populations of at least 250,000 people, met during AACSB’s 2022 International Conference and Annual Meeting to describe some of the strategies they had adopted. The 32 participants at the roundtable focused on answering three key questions:

  1. How has your stakeholder engagement increased or decreased since the pandemic?
  2. What creative methods are you using to build trust and/or engage your business school stakeholders?
  3. In what ways do your key stakeholders engage with your students inside and outside the classroom?

During these conversations, participants identified three main themes and shared details about their specific projects that have enhanced engagement.

Developing New Ways to Connect

The first theme quickly emerged from the discussion: Opportunities for stakeholder engagement initially decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic; but ultimately, videoconferencing, creative approaches to pedagogy, and communication technologies provided business schools with opportunities for increasing interactions. These opportunities supported the missions and strategic priorities of Metropolitan Business Schools and contributed to institutional impact.

For instance, the Sykes College of Business at the University of Tampa in Florida created virtual versions of its much-anticipated and well-attended end-of-year showcases of student research and new ventures. Faculty and students embraced the opportunity to invite friends and family members to join the online event—which they might have been unable to attend in person.

Other schools found that when they created virtual versions of activities such as student competitions, administrators were able to open up the events to attendees and judges from outside their metropolitan areas. Once schools began to hold in-person events again, many elected to incorporate online elements so that off-campus judges, sponsors, and attendees could continue to participate. This has enabled students and faculty to share their research and business accomplishments far beyond their geographical areas.

During the pandemic, business schools also began exploring how they could use new technology to bring in industry experts who might not have been able to travel long distances to appear on campus. At least two business schools experimented with hologram technology to “beam in” subject matter experts who could enhance student learning, skill development, and understanding of the global business environment. Emerging hologram technology has a myriad of applications for increasing stakeholder engagement and reducing a school’s carbon footprint. And since virtual speakers can come from anywhere in the world, their presence promotes cultural understanding and trust.

Videoconferencing, creative approaches to pedagogy, and communication technologies provided opportunities for increasing interactions with stakeholders during the pandemic.

Schools weren’t the only ones to embrace opportunities for digital interactions during the pandemic; corporate partners did so as well. For example, one Metropolitan Business School leader noted that, while internships decreased fivefold during this time, virtual internships eventually became the “new normal.”

Companies also adopted online alternatives for other activities. For instance, the PwC Virtual Case Experience allowed the company to offer online mentoring and collaboration opportunities to students.

Building Deeper Relationships

As roundtable participants reflected on how they could meet AACSB standards, priorities, and expectations for societal impact, a second theme emerged: The pandemic created new opportunities for schools to build meaningful relationships with stakeholders based on collaboration, trust, and innovation. These initiatives, many of which are still ongoing, fall into several distinct categories:

Events that connect the school with business leaders:

  • At the University of Texas El Paso, the Banking Academy hosts a Meet the Founders networking event where students interact with the program’s ten founders and financial institutions. Conversations might lead to internships or postgraduate employment opportunities for attendees.
  • At the Leon Hess Business School at Monmouth College in Illinois, the Business Council hosts a Day at the Races event at a local racetrack to promote informal interaction between business leaders, alumni, faculty, and students. The school also brings together students and executives through the Student Enrichment and Engagement Through Mentoring Activities (SEEMA) Program.

Initiatives that involve academics from both inside and outside the school:

  • The University of Kentucky’s Gatton School of Business in Lexington hosts Donuts with the Dean, which provides a chance for anyone who is interested in attending to converse, collaborate, and innovate over food. Ideas that are initiated in this setting often lead to ongoing relationships. For instance, professors might build partnerships with local business leaders in ways that enhance the curriculum, lead to research opportunities, or contribute to the school’s strategic priorities.
  • Ashton University in the United Kingdom uses its Visiting Faculty Program to bring in other business school leaders who can describe how they engage with stakeholders to incorporate experiential learning into the curriculum. The Visiting Faculty help academic leaders at Ashton understand the challenges that affect organizations and provide career insights to future business leaders.

Programs that encourage students to work with each other to enhance their own learning or solve problems in the community:

  • Queens College, part of the City of New York (CUNY) system, has embraced Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) experiences as a low-cost way to internationalize the curriculum. COILs develop learners’ intercultural competencies and allow them to establish meaningful relationships with peers around the globe without incurring the expense of travel abroad. COILs often involve experiential learning and service learning projects that encourage global teams of students to address challenges that span institutions and communities.
  • Several schools have created programs that enable college students to act as mentors. For instance, at the Trinity University of Asia in Quezon City in the Philippines, students in the Mentoring Beyond Borders program work with peers on topics such as financial literacy and personal development. Woxsen University in Kothus Patti Digwal, India, and Monmouth College are collaborating on the Woxsen-Monmouth Elevate Program, which provides students in India with training in subjects such as English, math, science, and life skills. Students at Monmouth also are acting as mentors by participating in the Enactus Lunch Breaks program that introduces high school students to collegiate life.

Special events that celebrate distinct student populations:

  • Elon University in North Carolina participated in the First-Generation College Celebration organized by NASPA in collaboration with the Suder Foundation. Elon’s institutionwide event included a community roundtable on the topic of navigating the first-generation experience, as well as coffee and s’mores in an outdoor setting.

Reaching Beyond the University

The third theme that emerged from the Metropolitan Business Schools Affinity Group discussion was: Opportunities to promote student learning and engage stakeholders occur outside the classroom as well as inside. Members of the group are creating off-campus opportunities in multiple ways:

Dalton State’s Wright School of Business in Georgia includes etiquette training as part of its junior-level professional development course. Students engage with community stakeholders at the nearby country club, where they develop relationships with local business leaders.

Opportunities to promote student learning and engage stakeholders occur outside the classroom as well as inside.

At Emory University’s Goizueta Business School in Atlanta, all graduate students participate in IMPACT projects, during which they work with faculty and leadership coaches as they solve challenges presented by real-world clients. IMPACT culminates in Showcase Day, when student teams present their project recommendations and receive feedback from business leaders. Past clients have included Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, GE, Georgia Power, The Home Depot, Turner, and various nonprofits.

The College of Business at the University of Alabama in Huntsville hosts a monthly speaker series titled “So You Wanna Work In…” At the events, alumni and working professionals describe their career paths and their daily work lives. Through casual and open conversations with speakers, students can consider how their majors align with their career goals. The school also runs an Employer of the Day program in which representatives of local companies visit business classes so students can develop connections with external stakeholders.

Meeting Today’s Challenges

The themes that were uncovered by the Metropolitan Business School Affinity Group doubtlessly resonate with business schools of every size and in every geographical location. It’s clear that, to address the challenges of the 21st century, all business schools will need to embrace collaboration with stakeholders across corporate, governmental, and nonprofit sectors. We must help these external partners navigate the accelerated pace of innovation, solve complex challenges in sustainable ways, and improve the quality of life throughout society.

At the same time, we must constantly pay attention to the changing landscape of management education. We must meet our missions, evaluate the impact of our programs, and ensure that our campuses champion diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. As AACSB’s Five Forces report notes, “Changes in higher education and shifts in learner demographics require business schools to revisit their strategic priorities, evaluate risk, and identify opportunities for innovation.”

We would like to hear from other school leaders who are increasing their relationships with stakeholders and building communities based on trust. Help us continue the discussion by joining the Metropolitan Business School Affinity Group. You can also post your ideas on the AACSB Exchange and tag us in your comments.

Jim B. Fatzinger
Visiting Associate Professor of Management, Martha and Spencer Love School of Business, Elon University; and Adjunct Professor of Business, Vanderbilt School of Engineering
Natasha Veltri
Associate Dean, Sykes College of Business, the University of Tampa
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
Subscribe to LINK, AACSB's weekly newsletter!
AACSB LINK—Leading Insights, News, and Knowledge—is an email newsletter that brings members and subscribers the newest, most relevant information in global business education.
Sign up for AACSB's LINK email newsletter.
Our members and subscribers receive Leading Insights, News, and Knowledge in global business education.
Thank you for subscribing to AACSB LINK! We look forward to keeping you up to date on global business education.
Weekly, no spam ever, unsubscribe when you want.