AACSB Accelerators:
Emerging Competencies for Societal Impact

Briefing | Updated March 8, 2023

Balancing profit with purpose, people, and planet is undoubtedly good for society, but it's also good for business. Complex global environmental and social issues require attention from leaders across sectors with wide-ranging competencies. AACSB is calling for systemic change through the expertise and action of business leaders and business educators worldwide to rethink the mindsets, competencies, and skills needed for future leaders to have a positive impact on society. The AACSB Accelerators work to create a new business philosophy and leadership framework as well as guide business schools in developing educated, skilled, and empathetic leaders who can succeed within business models where success metrics include sustainability and purpose in addition to profit. Through its accelerators, AACSB convenes cohorts comprising business and nonprofit executives, government officials, and business school leaders and learners focused on rapidly building the leadership framework that will prepare individuals to lead in a new desired future.

Explore the outputs and emerging competencies from the accelerators as AACSB works alongside societal impact leaders to design the next approach to business leadership.

systemic change icon

The Need for Systemic Change

Systemic change
“The collective power of AACSB’s network has the potential to shift the 100-year construct from a focus on profit to one that also includes purpose, people, and planet.” —Caryn Beck-Dudley, President and CEO, AACSB International

Business and business education leaders agree that the way we develop and educate is at a turning point and that significant, even systemic, change will be needed. Familiar constructs may no longer serve the future we are envisioning and working toward. Significant, even paradigm-shifting, change is needed for organizations to truly transition into entities that create and promote positive societal impact rather than contribute—whether in reality or perception—to the world’s challenges.

Societal impact

The definitions for successful leadership are evolving and now account for how organizations are contributing positive societal change, including the health and success of a broader group of stakeholders, climate action, and more equitable economies. As the source for current and future leaders, business schools play an important role in shaping and actualizing this needed change. It is now evident that doing what is in the best interest of all stakeholders, including people and the planet, is also good for business; therefore, it stands to reason that achieving positive societal impact will lead to greater success in business.

Over the course of three months, each accelerator cohort identified competencies that will shape how businesses, schools, and learners will embrace leadership in the future. Accelerator One members engaged in deep exploration to name three holistic and interconnected leadership competencies. Accelerator Two participants identified four new competencies to complement the existing three, focusing on how the competencies might be leveraged specifically within business education. All together, these seven competencies offer a guide for shaping societal impact leadership in business education.

Following the accelerators, AACSB will engage in research and validation of the groups’ recommendations that will ultimately formalize into a leadership competency structure. The resulting framework will impact the curriculum and preparation of the more than 4 million enrolled students at AACSB member business schools, as well as the development of current and emerging leaders at multinational organizations.

Societal Shifts
Certain societal shifts are driving new expectations of leadership.
There is value in separating leadership concepts from hierarchical roles and turning attention instead to behaviors and shared responsibility as demonstrations of leadership. Leadership is essentially decision-making based on how we prioritize our values.
For business education to make positive change, the lens through which societal impact is viewed, analyzed, and addressed must widen. An expanded mindset will require that leaders can objectively recognize and work to address the world’s wicked problems, even if it means operating under ambiguity and discomfort.
Our worldviews are largely shaped by the dominant structures that make up our world. Real transformation will require change in individuals but also change in the institutions and organizations we live among.
Rather than step-change iterations that repeat the cycle of failures currently perpetuating the status quo, leaders should strive for genuine change in the form of alternatives to the dominant paradigms.
Successful transition should aim to not only fix a problem but create a new state of being that can allow for sustainable change.
emerging icon

Emerging Competencies

Emerging Competencies

The AACSB Accelerators resulted in seven competencies for business schools to prioritize in their leadership development education. In addition to the competencies themselves, below are several recommended practices—many of which are in use at innovative business schools today—for business educators to consider as they develop tomorrow’s societal impact leaders.

Seven Competencies of a Societal Impact Leader:

Co-creation is the capacity and ability to experiment and iterate in environments of complex problems. Related sub-competencies include collaboration, confidence with uncertainty, experimentation, fluidity, adaptability, and creativity. Effective co-creation does not aim to fix or eliminate problems out of desperation but rather to work with problems to bring about something new.
  • Effectively developing perspectives that help advance society requires connection to others, organizations and institutions, and the environment. Continuing to apply collaborative learning projects in the curriculum can provide opportunities for students to apply their knowledge to real-world problems and learn from the perspectives of other stakeholders.
  • Experiential activities, such as design thinking workshops create safe spaces for students and faculty to test ideas and learn from others with worldviews outside the traditional business domain and co-create solutions to business problems.
  • Co-teaching by cross-sector, cross-disciplinary faculty exposes learners to different perspectives and real-world experiences that help bridge gaps between theory and practice and helps learners understand the interconnective nature of business.
“We are a group of people motivated by aspiration or desperation. The ability to dream big, the power to imagine the impossible, not what is, but what can become.” —Co-Creation Working Group
Compassionate leadership embodies an individual’s relationships with others, with their environment, and with their inner self. Organizations must consider people—as well as planet—as rightsholders and priority areas in their business decision-making.
  • Promoting ethical decision-making in business education encourages students to develop leadership skills grounded in compassion and social responsibility. Strong interpersonal connections with others enable leaders to rally and solve future challenges.
  • Through a deeper understanding of one's true self, leaders can effectively engage with others with humility and recognition of everyone's unique contributions. Business schools can foster a culture of diversity and inclusion by incorporating diverse perspectives into the curriculum, providing equal opportunities to all students, and creating a safe and respectful learning environment.
  • All leaders should be skilled communicators, but compassionate leaders are also expert listeners. Incorporating mindfulness practices, such as meditation and reflection, into learning experiences can help students develop self-awareness, empathy, and compassion.
“Leadership is about influence, and influence is about relationships. [You] cannot influence someone you do not have a relationship with.” —Austin Okere, Founder and Vice Chairman, CWG Plc
In an increasingly polarized world, leaders must address challenges with a different mindset and take actions to prevent present, unfavorable systems from repeating. Proficient depolarizers refute binary thinking and work to find a “third way” in negotiations.
  • Depolarizing leaders develop self-awareness and strive to understand the cultural and contextual elements and interdependencies that can lead to tensions. Applying social and emotional learning in business education enables students to develop self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, and relationship-building skills.
  • The use of dialogue and deliberation across learning experiences facilitates open and respectful communication among students, faculty, and practitioners who have differing ideological and political perspectives, preserving diversity of thought. This practice helps learners become adept at mediating disputes, creating nonjudgmental spaces, and seeking to understand circumstances instead of ascribing blame.
  • Polarization often results from conditions of uncertainty and anxiety. Preserving cognitive diversity that values different ways of thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making promotes critical thinking, creativity, and innovation and reduces ideological and political polarization. Embracing various cognitive approaches allows individuals to avoid finger-pointing and move toward collective problem-solving.
“[Consider] refuting binary thinking; embracing the nuance—there is always a third way, that’s why I am always incredibly happy with the new generations that are not so binary in their thinking.” —Jan-Willem Vosmeer, Global Manager, Sustainable Development & Stakeholder Engagement, Heineken
Discernment enables leaders to consciously intervene in opportunities, initiatives, and relationships to achieve their desired impact. Discernment can be compared to critical thinking but has a greater focus on the ability to judge right from wrong and to determine whether further inquiry is needed.
  • As a common staple in business education, case studies allow learners to analyze and solve complex business problems and make sound judgments. This approach can include situations focused on ethical dilemmas, organizational challenges, and strategic decision-making that allow students to apply their analytical and decision-making skills.
  • Employing ethics education in the curriculum allows learners to develop their reasoning and decision-making skills, particularly knowing when further information is needed. This approach can include courses in business ethics, corporate social responsibility, and sustainable business practices that challenge students to think critically about the ethical implications of business decisions.
  • Integrating interdisciplinary courses into the curriculum, such as the Psychology of Consumer Behavior or Sustainable Business Practices, helps cultivate a mindset beyond binary thinking and encourages students to find solutions that support the common good.
Interconnectivity recognizes that everything in the universe is related and that humans operate as agents of connection and severance. Related terminology includes interdisciplinarity, interbeing, coexistence, interdependence, symbiosis, and relational understanding. Societal consciousness, responsibility, and cultural fluency are sub-competencies that relate to being interconnective.
  • A greater emphasis on sustainability education can help students understand the environmental and societal impacts of business activities and how these impacts are interrelated. By including courses that focus on topics such as sustainable business practices, corporate social responsibility, and environmental management, students develop a systems-thinking mindset and recognize that advancing society requires connection to others, to organizations and institutions, and to the environment.
  • Through cross-disciplinary learning, students collaborate with other fields of study and co-create solutions that advance positive societal and environmental impact. Interdisciplinary courses, team projects, and guest speakers from different fields expose students and faculty to others with worldviews outside the traditional business domain.
  • Encouraging learners to consider all stakeholders, including employees, customers, suppliers, and investors, as fundamentally interconnected with differing perspectives and needs prepares them to understand how they can garner influence and meet the needs of a wider audience of people.
Leaders who exhibit a paradox mindset accept that there are multiple ways of knowing and being and welcome such contradictions in their decision-making. In the context of business, paradox requires leaders to refrain from instinctually resolving contradictions, as doing so can eliminate critical differences in thought.
  • It is human nature to seek resolution amid contradictory ideas, as sitting in paradox is inherently uncomfortable. However, leaders who practice dialectical thinking can hold and reconcile two seemingly opposing viewpoints and gain new insights and opportunities. Students should be exposed to experiences that develop their critical-thinking and problem-solving skills so they can navigate complex and uncertain business environments.
  • Effective leaders strive to consider and adapt to multiple ways of knowing and facilitate difficult dialogue by listening actively and communicating objectives clearly while suspending judgment.
  • Dealing with conflict constructively requires leaders to address challenges as they arise and create open spaces that preserve diversity of thought. Cultivating learners’ conflict resolution and negotiation skills helps them navigate disagreement constructively and respectfully, create a culture of collaboration and cooperation, and reduce polarization and divisiveness.
“Paradox is a lens to view situations that are subjective to individual world views as well as parallel world views.” —Heather MacCleoud, Chief Network Officer, Ashoka U, Ashoka
Self-reflexivity is the capacity to critically and compassionately understand the evolving self within the context of external adaptation and evolution. Related sub-competencies include self-awareness, humility, deep care, and the courage to lead with heart. Given that self-reflexivity is a continuous introspective process of observing one's beliefs, motivations, preferences, values, judgments, and practices, self-reflexivity is a precursor to identifying the direct and indirect impacts one's actions can have on surrounding people, organizations, and systems.
  • Providing experiential learning in the context of real-world situations is essential to helping students develop the practical skills, problem-solving abilities, and critical thinking skills that prepare them for the business world. Such active learning should aim to emphasize useful, real-world experience through hands-on activities, simulations, and reflective exercises.
  • Incorporating self-awareness exercises allows space for learners to discover their purpose and passions by examining their mindsets, feelings, and behaviors and how these attributes influence their interactions. This approach can include journaling, mindfulness exercises, and other self-reflection practices.
  • Self-assessment encourages learners to become more self-aware and identify areas where changes are needed to pursue continuous personal growth. Through reflection and feedback from peers and mentors, learners can further hone their self-assessment skills.
Frameworks icon

Frameworks for Change 

Frameworks for change


AACSB commissioned a team at Solvable, with expertise in guiding organizational change, to design and facilitate the accelerator journey. The team leveraged several frameworks and exercises including meditation, visualization, and multisensory teaching to create an exploratory and visual process, centering on concepts modeled by Three Horizons. This framework, founded by Bill Sharpe and the International Futures Forum, allows leaders to strategically visualize a new, desired future state in which their organizations can operate. Each “horizon” curve represents the trajectories toward a desired future and the transitional activities required for leaders to emerge from their status quo.

Three horizons framework

The key objective in using this framework was to challenge participants to reimagine their future; intentionally let go of activities and systems that no longer serve a purpose; and engage in paradigm-shifting actions, mindsets, and skill sets. The framework helped participants centralize on authentic, even radical, transformation and avoid continually reproducing the same systems that contribute to many of the societal issues we currently face.

Section 4 puzzle piece

Facilitators, Contributors, and Participants

Facilitators, Contributors, and Participants


In collaboration with AACSB, the accelerator journey was designed and facilitated by Solvable. The team cofacilitated the five workshops, numerous competency working groups, and one-on-one dialogues with cohort members.

Mary Bartlett
Mary Bartlett, Solvable
Mary Bartlett
Anna Denardin, Solvable
Charles Holmes
Charles Holmes, Solvable
Adam Lerner
Adam Lerner, Solvable


Advisory Circle

An advisory circle of distinguished thinkers and doers in their respective fields was assembled to stretch the thinking of the accelerator participants through their engagement. Each advisor presented content and practices during one of the workshops as well as directly collaborated with a working group on a specific competency related to their field.

Accelerator One Advisory Circle

Peter Block
Peter Block, Facilitator, Consultant and Author, United States
Advisor expertise: social capital community development
Denise Deluca
Denise Deluca, Educator, Consultant and Author, United States
Advisor expertise: biomimicry and engineering
Arturo Escobar
Arturo Escobar, Educator and Author, Colombia and United States
Advisor expertise: decolonization, sustainable development, and anthropology
Renee Lertzman
Renée Lertzman, Psychologist, Consultant and Author United States 12
Advisor expertise: emotional intelligence, climate psychology
Cathy-Mae Karelse
Cathy-Mae Karelse, Systems Change Consultant, United Kingdom and South Africa
Advisor expertise: social transformation, reconciliation, and mindfulness
Andri  Snaer Karelse
Andri Snær Magnason, Author, Director, and Educator, Iceland
Advisor expertise: language, imagination, and climate change

Accelerator Two Advisory Circle

Denise Deluca
Vanessa Andreotti, Educator and Author, Canada
Advisor expertise: education pedagogy decolonization, futures
Arturo Escobar
Marty Linsky, Educator and Author, United States
Advisor expertise: leadership, management, politics
Renee Lertzman
Jemilah Mahmood, Educator, Diplomat, NGO Leader, and Physician, Malaysia
Advisor expertise: planetary health, diplomacy, humanitarian response
Cathy-Mae Karelse
Henry Mintzberg, Educator and Author, Canada
Advisor expertise: leadership, management, organizations
Andri  Snaer Karelse
Bill Reed, Consultant, Architect, and Educator, United States
Advisor expertise: regeneration, green building, living systems design


Thirty-two senior impact leaders joined the accelerator cohorts from business, the social sector, government, and academia. The cohorts offered a new understanding of our existing and potential futures. Most of the leaders brought decades of impact experience to the accelerator for a rich peer learning environment.

Accelerator One Participants

Michiel Bakker
Michiel Bakker, Vice President, Global Workplace Programs, Google
Mikhail Davis
Mikhail Davis, Director of Technical Sustainability Interface
Maria Guevara
Maria Guevara, International Medical Secretary, Médecins Sans Frontières
Sophie Howe
Sophie Howe, Future Generations Commissioner Government of Wales
Nick Igneri
Nick Igneri, Senior Vice President and Chief Product Officer, AACSB International
Kristin E Joys
Kristin E. Joys, Chair, Teaching & Curriculum Innovation, B Academics
Steve Kappler
Steve Kappler, President, Enactus United States
Heather MacCleoud
Heather MacCleoud, Chief Network Officer, Ashoka U, Ashoka
Austin Okere
Austin Okere, Founder and Vice Chairman, CWS Plc
Katie Pedley
Katie Pedley, Director R&D Liaison Global Higher Education Educational Testing Service (ETS)
Olivia Scriven
Olivia Scriven, Federal Disaster Recovery Officer, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
Erik Thrasher
Erik Thrasher, Vice Present, Strategic Partnerships, and Global Lead, DE&I Publishing, Wiley
Jan-Willem Vosmeer
Jan-Willem Vosmeer, Global Manager, Sustainable Development & Stakeholder Engagement, Heineken

Accelerator Two Participants

Randall Bass
Randall Bass, Vice President, Strategic Education Initiatives; Professor, College of Arts & Sciences, Georgetown University
Roel Beetsma
Roel Beetsma, Dean, Faculty of Economics and Business, University of Amsterdam
Elena Beleska-Spasova
Elena Beleska-Spasova, Pro-Dean for Education and Innovation, Henley Business School, University of Reading
Jan Beyne
Jan Beyne, Researcher, Sustainable Transformation Lab, University of Antwerp
Henry Bradford
Henry Bradford, Associate Dean of the Bachelor in Business Administration, IE Business School
Manuela Brusoni
Manuela Brusoni, Deputy Dean for Accreditation, SDA Bocconi School of Management
Tommaso Buganza
Tommaso Buganza, Professor of Leadership and Innovation, Politecnico di Milano School of Management
Steven Cady
Steven Cady, Director, Doctoral Program in Organizational Development and Change, Schmidthorst College of Business, Bowling Green State University
Erik B. Foley
Erik B. Foley, Director, Center for the Business of Sustainability, Smeal College of Business, Pennsylvania State University
Aaron Jackson
Aaron Jackson, Senior Associate Dean, Graduate School of Business, Bentley University
Fadi Kattan
Fadi Kattan, Dean, School of Business Administration, Bethlehem University
Robyn McKenna
Robyn McKenna, Regional Business Director, McGraw Hill
Rohan Nipunge
Rohan Nipunge, Young Impact Leader, University of Colorado Denver
Gretchen Phillips
Gretchen Phillips, Managing Director, Reimagining Capitalism, Omidyar Network
Shona Quinn
Shona Quinn, Director of Social Consciousness, Eileen Fisher
Al Renshaw
Al Renshaw, Senior Vice President and Global Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, AACSB International
Sophia Rodriguez
Sophia Rodriguez, Young Impact Leader, National 4-H Council
Leia Ross
Leia Ross, Young Impact Leader, Appalachian State University
Daius Steiner
Daius Steiner, Young Impact Leader, Simon Fraser University; Curriculum Change Coordinator, Re_Generation
White icon of open book

Further Reading

Individual reading a hardcover book sitting on three books stacked

The following works guided the thinking around the Accelerator One competencies:

The following works guided the thinking around the Accelerator Two competencies:

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.