DBAs Encourage Impact Through Collaboration

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Tuesday, August 22, 2023
By Jinnie Hinderscheit, Eva Cools
Photo by iStock/courtneyk
DBA programs unite corporations and business schools in the goal of producing practical research that advances the sustainability agenda.
  • Through Doctor of Business Administration programs, experienced professionals gain the academic skills to produce rigorous scholarship that has practical business applications.
  • Many of today’s DBA candidates are focusing on sustainability topics because they want to create knowledge that contributes to a better world.
  • As part of that trend, the DBA programs at Grenoble Ecole de Management and Vlerick Business School emphasize environmental, social, and governance issues.

To deal with the grand challenges of our time, industry and academia need to move in the same direction. They must mutually inspire each other to take on social responsibility, act in sustainable ways, and commit to making the world a better place. All these goals can intersect in Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) programs.

DBA programs typically span three to five years and are designed for experienced professionals who want to make a societal impact through research. Candidates come from diverse backgrounds but share a common desire to make a meaningful difference in the world. They want to fundamentally understand and seek solutions to the most pressing or recurring challenges within their workplaces, their industries, and society at large.

Candidates bring with them a wealth of industry-specific experience and the legitimacy of their practical knowledge. In DBA programs, they learn sound academic practices. This combination enables them to produce relevant, rigorous research with practical business applications that extend well beyond academia.

Graduates have the skills to pursue careers in academia, become consultants, or take on roles as influential decision-makers within their organizations. Thus, they serve as vital bridges between the business and research communities. Below, we describe the DBA programs at our two institutions to highlight what they have to offer to business leaders who might be interested in pursuing academic careers.

An Emphasis on Sustainability

Today, many DBA researchers are tackling the issue of sustainability, which has become so critical to business. This truly applies to our two schools, Grenoble Ecole de Management in France and Vlerick Business School in Belgium. Our DBA programs encourage candidates to study sustainability through the framework of environmental, social, and governance issues, or ESG.

At our schools, DBA candidates produce research that encompasses both theoretical advancements and practical applications in ESG fields. Because the programs adhere to rigorous academic standards similar to those used in PhD programs, participants write doctoral dissertations that both contribute to academic knowledge and make a direct impact on society.

This ESG emphasis is possible because both of our institutions are committed to sustainability and have embedded it in their operations. In 2021, Grenoble Ecole de Management became the first French Grande Ecole to adopt the status of société à mission, a legal framework that compels organizations to pursue social and environmental goals for sustainable outcomes.

DBA graduates can pursue careers in academia, become consultants, or take on roles as decision-makers within their organizations. Thus, they serve as vital bridges between the business and research communities.

Similarly, Vlerick Business School is one of the Pioneering Institutions within the Responsible Research in Business and Management (RRBM) network, which supports the mission of creating knowledge that contributes to a better world. At Vlerick, PhD and DBA researchers attain this goal by collaborating closely with corporate partners to co-create academic insights that have direct and practical impact.

To showcase the range of ESG topics that DBA participants might address, we have compiled a sampling of the research that candidates have pursued at our two schools.

A Focus on Environmental Impact

DBA research contributes to environmental knowledge when it evaluates the kinds of company practices that have an impact on the natural world. The work that DBA candidates complete as part of their programs often can make important contributions to practice. Take, for example, the following two examples:

  • Hans Maenhout, investment director for early-stage investor Finindus, combines an engineering background with an expertise in and passion for innovative solutions for the generation of renewable energy. In his research at Vlerick Business School, he focuses on developing a comprehensive assessment of greenhouse gas emissions related to offshore wind farms. His objective is to help companies make informed technological choices and targeted sourcing decisions, enabling them to more accurately evaluate and effectively reduce the environmental impact of their operations.
  • Monyl Toga, a senior energy specialist at The World Bank, explores the role of regional power systems and their contributions to enhancing the energy security of developing countries. Through her research at Grenoble Ecole de Management, she evaluates how regional power cooperation and trade affect specific energy security outcomes. She also scrutinizes the influence of sociocultural factors on institutional choice.

An Examination of Social Relevance

Research on social factors explores topics such as societal impact, inequality, human rights, labor practices, diversity and inclusion, and community engagement. Two recent DBA candidates pursued this angle through their scholarship:

  • Benjamin Powers graduated from the DBA program at Grenoble Ecole de Management and is now director of the Haskins Global Literacy Hub at the Yale Child Study Center in New Haven, Connecticut. He also is executive director of The Southport School and CoLAB in Connecticut. In both roles, he builds collaborative community partnerships designed to close the literacy gap and help those with learning disabilities achieve their full potential. His research focuses on the self-esteem and self-efficacy perceptions of adolescents with dyslexia and ADHD. His goal is to understand how these conditions affect individuals’ social-emotional well-being and their career intentions.
Research on social factors explores topics such as societal impact, inequality, human rights, labor practices, diversity and inclusion, and community engagement.
  • Isabel Van Obergen is CEO of a nonprofit that aims to stimulate people to engage in healthy lifestyles through sports. Through her research at Vlerick Business School, she is studying how cross-sector partnerships between businesses and nonprofits can create value and lead to societal impact.

An Assessment of Governance Systems

Research studies focused on governance explore the systems, procedures, and practices that organizations put in place to ensure they comply with the law and meet the needs of external stakeholders. Three recent DBA candidates have investigated a variety of topics in this increasingly important area of research:

  • Sofie De Beule-Roloff is chief operating officer for the European Stability Mechanism, an intergovernmental organization that acts as a lender of last resort for euro nations. In that role, she monitors the implementation of the Green Deal in Europe. In her research at Vlerick Business School, she aims to assess the European Union’s ability to foster solidarity and enable a fair transition toward sustainable economies and societies. Beule-Roloff also seeks to provide a realistic evaluation of the EU’s progress in achieving these goals.
  • Maung Min, an alumnus of the Grenoble program, is now a professor at Penn State University in University Park. His research examines the relationship between corporate social responsibility (CSR) and corporate financial performance in the pharmaceutical industry.
  • Sholom Schochet, a professor at Brooklyn College in New York, investigates the connection between corporate tax avoidance, CSR, employee treatment, and consumer awareness. He is also an alum of the Grenoble program.

Levers for Impact

As these examples show, DBA programs are levers for impactful, societally relevant research. Such programs establish strong connections between the educational and business sectors, and they enable both corporations and educational institutions to advance sustainability causes.

Of course, DBA programs represent only one way for corporations to partner with business schools. Other collaborations might include practice-based research projects that examine various aspects of sustainable policies and strategies in the business context. Companies and schools also can work together to find ways to disseminate new knowledge effectively.

DBA programs remain one of the most powerful forms of collaboration between the two sectors. When doctoral researchers work hand-in-hand with company leaders, they co-create academic insights that have a direct impact on driving sustainability. As DBA scholars bridge the gap between industry and academia, they influence and shape sustainable practices within the business community and help drive much-needed positive societal outcomes.

Jinnie Hinderscheit
Relations Manager, Doctorate of Business Administration, Grenoble Ecole de Management
Eva Cools
Research Manager and DBA Manager, Vlerick Business School
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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