Saving the Planet Through Global Leadership

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Tuesday, July 9, 2024
By Michael B. Arthur
Photo by iStock/SolStock
It’s important for students to develop global perspectives, self-awareness, and social consciousness even as they’re learning business fundamentals.
  • At Antwerp Management School, a new Global Leadership initiative has been integrated into all the school’s specialized master’s programs.
  • Through Action Learning Projects, students collaborate across disciplines on activities that foster sustainability or promote societal good.
  • In Personal Development Papers, students reflect on their individual learning trajectories and learn to make more conscious decisions about their futures.

For many people who are serious about trying to save the planet, a business school is not their first port of call. After all, most business schools measure their success by how much money their students earn after graduation. Even faculty who care deeply about social and environmental issues are more likely to spend class time focusing on profit instead of people and the planet.

The faculty at Antwerp Management School (AMS) in Belgium take a different view. They believe that career development for students should not exist in isolation, but unfold within the context of societal impact. As part of this goal, they have developed Global Leadership, a two-semester course that is integrated into all of the school’s specialized master’s programs.

Course design was led by Ans De Vos, full professor and holder of SD Worx Chair “Next Generation Work: Creating Sustainable Careers,” a collaboration between AMS and SD Worx dedicated to developing sustainable career policy. Along with four co-authors from AMS, she wrote a recent Journal of Management Education article that describes how the school developed the initiative and what the results have been for students.

Following a Mission

The new course builds on the school’s mission of creating sustainable value by developing global citizens who have mastered “the art of making decisions and leading people.” As the Journal of Management Education article details, the mission is supported by three pillars:

Global perspective. Students at AMS—who represent more than 40 nationalities—are inspired to “gain insight into their own (ethnocentric) biases” so they can better navigate the complexities of the global playing field.

Self-awareness. Students are encouraged to develop their own views of who they are and how they can contribute to teams. The school considers self-awareness the foundation of leadership and career development because it is “a prerequisite for effective collaboration with others.”

Societal consciousness. “Are you fit for the future?” the school asks students. “Will your social group survive and thrive in 10, 20, 50, or even 100 years?” Referencing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the school challenges students to make an impact in their present and future career behaviors.

Building Faculty Support

In keeping with these pillars, De Vos and her colleagues were tapped to design a six-credit Global Leadership course that would develop leaders for the world, not of the world. It would be built around and extend a three-credit Leadership and Career Development course already in use among the organizational behavior faculty.

However, there were some concerns. If Global Leadership was integrated into all specialized master’s programs, it would divert attention from other subject matter. Moreover, it was not obvious that students in largely quantitative programs—such as finance and supply chain management—would see the benefit. But the course had strong support from the school’s dean, Steven De Haes, as well as the school’s academic directors (ADs).

The course builds on the school’s mission of creating sustainable value by developing global citizens who have mastered “the art of making decisions and leading people.”

For example, Peggy De Prins, AD of the Master in Strategic Human Resource Management (HRM), saw how students could integrate sustainable HRM practices into their choices about personal leadership and career directions. Robin De Cock, AD of the Master in Sustainable Innovation and Entrepreneurship, provided guidance on how the course could help students draw on their own leadership abilities to define and solve sustainability problems. To ensure that all content would be aligned, the school installed a dedicated team of faculty in the fields of sustainability, leadership, organizational behavior, and career development. 

Early adoption by some ADs led faculty to hold deeper conversations about the course. Faculty also realized that the Career Center could support the course by providing résumé-writing workshops, job fairs, and career coaching under the leadership of Albert Segura Mollà, career services manager.

As a result, De Vos reports, the school “took a major leap forward in making the acquisition of career competencies across all three of its pillars a required learning goal for its students.” This, in turn, translated into a shared message to all master’s students to seize the opportunity to differentiate themselves through the acquisition of leadership abilities. This academic year, academic directorship of the course passed to Sofie Jacobs, associate professor of HRM and talent development.

Acting and Reflecting

A major component of the Global Leadership initiative is the Action Learning Project that students undertake during the first semester. To build a shared commitment among students, the school encourages them to collaborate with peers across all programs, including those in management, finance, global management, global supply chain management, maritime and air transport management, sustainable innovation and entrepreneurship, and strategic human resource management.

In one recent Action Learning Project, students developed and implemented fun and educational activities designed to familiarize Ukrainian children from refugee families with their new contexts. In a second project, students arranged for a large hotel chain to donate its regularly replaced towels and bed linens to a poverty aid organization. In a third one, students encouraged a large retail store to replace its disposable plastic clothes hangers with sustainable ones.

Another key element of the Global Leadership initiative is the Personal Development Paper that students write over the course of both semesters. According to De Vos, this paper “brings sustainability to the personal level, helping students make more conscious choices about their own future careers.”

As a result, she says, many students discover that their career perspectives have been “shaped by the context in which they grew up, and the expectations and norms shaped by that context. They turn toward making choices for themselves even when that means deviating from an anticipated career in an accounting firm, a management consulting firm, or a family business.”

Graphic showing how students develop global perspective, self-awareness, and societal consciousness through action learning projects and personal development plans.

Through team-based Action Learning Projects and individual Personal Development Plans, students develop their leadership skills according to Antwerp Management School’s three pillars of global perspective, self-awareness, and societal consciousness.

When students complete the course, they are assessed on three specific competencies:

  • Do they know and understand the frameworks and readings used in the course?
  • Do they have the reflective capacity to apply these frameworks as they analyze the evolution of their own behaviors and that of others?
  • Can they integrate self-awareness and a global perspective on sustainability into their future careers, in ways that reflect the “visions on leadership” they developed in the course?

Gathering Feedback

The program launched in 2019 and won a Responsible Business Education Award from the Financial Times in 2023. Over the years, administrators have made a continuous effort to keep assignments relevant by incorporating feedback from students. Recent alumni have made it clear that they strongly value the way the course helps them prepare for careers with impact.

For instance, Lourdemary Chantal Devadas, who pursued a master’s in global supply chain management, called the course a transformative journey. “It ignited my desire to seek opportunities within diverse and inclusive companies that emphasize the power of multicultural collaboration and a respectful environment. The Global Leadership course also broadened my perspective on sustainable development goals, inspiring me to actively engage as a global citizen and motivating me to actively contribute toward building a better world.”

A group of students stand behind poster boards and brochures explaining the projects they have been working on.

Teams of AMS students show off the results of their Action Learning Projects.

Another global supply chain management student, Dávid Reisinger, liked the fact that his team’s project had a direct impact on the Sustainable Development Goal of zero hunger. Says Reisinger, “I learned a lot about tolerance and how to work together with other people, especially from other cultures.” He currently works for a logistical firm in Hungary, where he strives to represent the mission and mindset he and his team shared on their project, “even though being sustainable and eco-friendly is not necessarily the easiest thing in our industry.”

Alperen Aslan, a master’s student in the innovation and entrepreneurship program, called the course a game-changer, “both professionally and personally. It opened my eyes to the power of feedback in interpersonal relationships and gave me the tools to navigate them effectively. Now, as a managing partner at our family business, Aslan Consulting, I've seen firsthand how the principles of sustainable leadership are essential in managing an international team and serving global clients.”

As Antwerp Management School redefines its programs around the three pillars, faculty strengthen their belief that sustainability is a challenge for the existing curriculum, not to it.

For students concerned about the health of the planet, mastering leadership skills gives them opportunities to think about and redirect their future careers. For faculty and administrators who are committed to sustainable business, offering a focus on global leadership provides a way to contribute to societal good.

Contact Michael B. Arthur at [email protected] and Ans De Vos at [email protected].

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Michael B. Arthur
Emeritus Professor, Sawyer Business School, Suffolk University, and founder of Intelligent Careers Group LLC
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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