A New Curriculum Focuses on Societal Impact

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Tuesday, May 16, 2023
By Raul V. Rodriguez
Photo by iStock/Melpomenem
Woxsen University emphasizes ethics, responsibility, sustainability, and digital literacy to empower the next generation of business leaders.
  • Woxsen has made ERS a core pillar of its courses, research, community outreach, and administrative practices.
  • Up to 20 percent of all modules incorporate elements of ERS, and students must write dissertation papers demonstrating they have learned core principles.
  • Students can participate in school initiatives with societal impact, including those that help rural entrepreneurs launch businesses or teach financial literacy to teens.


The changing business, social, and technological landscape has led to the need for a paradigm shift in the way business schools approach management education. That’s why Woxsen University in Hyderabad, India, has taken the bold step of reorienting its curriculum toward ethics, responsibility, and sustainability (ERS). At the same time, we have integrated technology and digital literacy into all aspects of our business programs.

We were inspired by the work of Hirotaka Takeuchi, a professor at Harvard Business School in the U.S., and Ralf Reichwald, a professor at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg in Germany. Both have emphasized the importance of collaborative innovation, which involves bringing together different perspectives, expertise, and resources to generate new ideas. According to Takeuchi and Reichwald, companies that adopt a culture of collaborative innovation are better equipped to adapt to changes in the market and stay ahead of their competitors. They argue that innovation is not a one-time event, but a continuous process that requires ongoing experimentation and improvement.

Our choices also were influenced by the work of other key thinkers in the field. For instance, John R. Boatright of Loyola University Chicago contends that business leaders have a moral responsibility to consider the impact of their actions on society, which means that management education must include a strong emphasis on ethical decision-making. David Cooperrider of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, argues that business leaders must consider the long-term impact of their actions on both the environment and the world, which means that management education must highlight the importance of sustainability.

Today at Woxsen University, ERS is a core pillar of all administrative, academic, and social operations, making it an essential component of day-to-day activities. The university’s mission and vision statement reflect our commitment to developing global professionals who are multicultural and inclusive.

The MBA program at Woxsen’s School of Business exemplifies how the university is putting ERS into practice in both teaching and research. ERS issues account for approximately 20 percent of the content in the MBA’s required courses and projects; ERS also represents about 10 percent of the content in all electives and across all modules, as well as in all publications, case studies, and book chapters produced by our faculty.

In addition, all of the MBA’s regular activities are informed by the school’s adherence to the United Nations Principles of Responsible Management Education (PRME). Schools that are signatories to PRME embrace six principles that include training students to work toward a sustainable economy, practicing global social responsibility, and undertaking purposeful research. These principles guide us as we design and deliver our MBA program.

ERS for All

So, what does it look like when this focus on ERS is put into practice? At Woxsen, our core compulsory courses include classes on business ethics and corporate governance, social responsibility, sustainability, and climate change. ERS also is covered and applied in marketing, finance, HR, and operations courses.

The six principles of the United Nations Principles of Responsible Management guide us as we design and deliver our MBA program.

At the end of the first year of the program, all students must submit a dissertation on topics of their choice that relate to ERS. The paper allows us to assess how well students have come to understand, appreciate, and internalize issues of ethics, responsibility, and sustainability.

If student papers are found suitable, they are published in our digital in-house magazine, Woxsen Business Review (WBR). The publication, which is operated by the Woxsen Case Study Centre, features cases, white papers, and articles. The WBR includes a subsection dedicated to sustainability and the SDGs, which serves to raise students’ awareness of how companies are adopting practices related to sustainability and corporate social responsibility.

Project-Based Learning

One way Woxsen exposes students to ERS issues is through hands-on projects. For example, in 2022, the university launched a Rural Entrepreneurship Project in which teams of students work with business professor Bhairab Chandra to identify key areas of concern in local communities. Students help rural entrepreneurs set up businesses and find sources of funding. At the end of the course, students submit papers about how they’ve helped address local needs. Fifteen percent of their grades for the module are based on the outcomes of this project.

In one of the initiative’s first projects, a seven-member team from the university visited Kamkole village in the southern state of Telangana to help residents develop entrepreneurial ventures. To create a fixed establishment that rural residents can visit, the university set up the Woxsen OneIndia Outreach Office in collaboration with the student-led group TRY (The Rural Youth). TRY works closely with the Kamkole School to nurture entrepreneurship, offer literacy sessions across disciplines, and help residents use their skills to uplift their communities.

Another example originated from the collaboration between the product design department of Woxsen’s School of Arts and Design and the MBA/BBA department of the Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Paraná (PUCPR) in Curitiba, Brazil. Under the umbrella of the Centre of Excellence for Ethics, Responsibility, and Sustainability, the two schools offered an intense three-week course on human-centered design.

Participating students were divided into six groups, each one composed of five management students from PUCPR and three product design students from Woxsen. Students were mentored by faculty from both schools. These mentors identified problem areas that are common in both Brazil and India, and students worked together to develop solutions.

Through the Rural Entrepreneurship Project, students identify areas of concern in local communities, help rural entrepreneurs set up businesses, and assist them in finding funding.

For a project centered around waste management, students worked with the local rag picking populations in their respective countries to develop life-enhancing interventions. Different student groups focused on managing e-waste; managing plastic waste generated by public transport areas; and recycling and upcycling the waste from educational institutions, hospitals, temples, and the hospitality industry. After carrying out intensive field and literature research, the students came up with solutions that created value for all stakeholders.

Extensive Integration

The business school operates a wide range of other initiatives designed to integrate ERS more deeply into the curriculum and on-campus life:

Sustainability-themed events. These have included the Global Impact Summit, which brought together senior academics and corporate professionals; the Executive Council Forum, which convened senior academic leaders and industry professionals; and our business school’s flagship conference, Digitalization, Innovation, Transformation, and Sustainability, also known as DigITS. The School of Business also has led an interdisciplinary competition, open to the entire school, called Building Futuristic Sustainable Living: Thinking Smart & Responsible.

Projects designed to spark rural engagement and development. The Centre for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion sponsors Project Aspiration, which provides workshops to female students from disadvantaged populations who are facing challenging situations. Through this training program, conducted by MBA students and their faculty mentors, participants explore different future career possibilities, as well as ways that they can set, pursue, and achieve their goals.

Faculty members also have used their personal time to conduct workshops in rural areas that surround the university campus. One program on financial literacy, organized by the Prasad Padmanabhan Finance Studio, promotes financial well-being and literacy within specific communities by targeting preteen and teenaged participants.

Projects launched in collaboration with other schools. The school has partnered with Monmouth University in West Long Branch, New Jersey, on a six-month social impact project called the Woxsen-Monmouth Elevate Programme. Its mission is to uplift sections of society by teaching the underprivileged students of Telangana. Monmouth has contributed more than 1,000 USD to the project and shared asynchronous content delivered by its students.

Taking Moral Responsibility

At Woxsen Univeristy, we have created an ERS-oriented curriculum with the goal of preparing future business leaders to take moral responsibility for the way their actions affect society and the environment. Our hope is that other universities also will make efforts to incorporate ethics, responsibility, and sustainability into every aspect of their operations and partnerships. In this way, we can all work together to create a better world.

Raul V. Rodriguez
Steven Pinker Professor of Cognitive Psychology and Vice President, School of Business, Woxsen University
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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