AACSB Accelerators:
Emerging Competencies for Societal Impact

Briefing | October 2022

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 global business leaders and business educators. 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 focused on sustainability and purpose.

Explore the outputs from each accelerator as AACSB works alongside societal impact leaders to design the next approach to business leadership.

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Introduction: The Need for Systemic Change

Systemic change
“When a system collapses, language is released from its moorings. Words meant to encapsulate reality hang empty in the air, no longer applicable to anything. Textbooks are rendered obsolete overnight and overly complex hierarchies fade away. People suddenly find it difficult to hit upon the right phrasing, to articulate concepts that match their reality.” —Andri Snær Magnason, Author, Director, and Educator; Accelerator One Advisory Member

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.

Leaders and new forms of leadership are vital for positive societal impact. The definitions for successful leadership are evolving and now consider how organizations are contributing positive societal change, including the health and success of a broader group of stakeholders, climate action, and economic equality. But do the world’s leaders have the knowledge, skills, and abilities required for such change?

As the source for current and future leaders, business schools play an important role in shaping and actualizing this needed change. 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.


Societal impact

Accelerator One took place from April to June 2022, and participants identified three priority competencies shaping how businesses, schools, and learners will teach leadership in the future. The outputs from that journey are shared here. The cohort for Accelerator Two, running from September to December 2022, will build on this work.

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 four million enrolled students at AACSB business schools, as well as the development of current and emerging leaders at multinational organizations.

AACSB will continue to share takeaways from each accelerator to provide business schools, practitioners, and learners with the information they need to face the challenges of the future.

“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
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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 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 curve represents the trajectories toward a desired future and the transitional activities required for leaders to emerge from their status quo.

The key objective in using this framework is 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 intent must centralize on authentic, even radical, transformation; otherwise, leaders will end up continually reproducing the same systems that contribute to many of the societal issues we currently face.

Three horizons framework

Other Frameworks That Aid in Transformative Thinking

Collective Impact calls for a co-creative approach between various actors in a system to combine knowledge and resources in a shared space over time. This research method empowered the Solvable team to see the accelerators as a space for collective emergence and relationship-building.

Theory U focuses on leading change during times of disruption and emergence when past experiences can no longer guide present or future behavior. Developed by Otto Scharmer and the Presencing Institute at MIT, this methodology for sensing and actualizing the emergent future has been in use for over 20 years.

Desired Outcomes

The following desired outcomes guided the design of AACSB’s Accelerator One:

  • Identify and define leadership competencies that will accelerate future positive societal impact.
  • Obtain a deeper understanding of participants’ desired societal impact and how it might be achieved.
  • Enhance the personal leadership capacity, skills, and knowledge of all participants while also cultivating valuable relationships within the cohort. 
  • Expand perspectives and cultivate leadership confidence for facilitating change within teams and organizations.
  • Identify new possibilities for systemic change initiatives and future collaborations.
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Emerging Competencies

Emerging Competencies

The cohort of Accelerator One generated a list of over 50 societal impact leadership competencies—most of which are not currently cultivated within business education and organizational development curricula. Participants organized competencies under the three themes of head, heart, and hand, as informed by the work of sustainability scholar David Orr, to illustrate that leadership must include a holistic combination of the knowledge, emotions, and actions required for transformational change.

Head, Heart, Hand image

Accelerator One narrowed down the list of competencies based on specific criteria and following deep exploration to three priority and interconnected leadership competencies: paradox, depolarization, and compassion.

Criteria for Identifying Competencies

  1. Does it influence societal impact?
  2. Is it relevant to contemporary needs?
  3. Does it accelerate the transition to a desired future?
  4. Does it comprise “head, heart, and hand?”
  5. Does it encompass other sub-competencies without repetition?


Compassionate leadership embodies an individual's external relations with others and with their environment, and with their inner self. Through ongoing self-reflection, compassionate leaders can apply an open-minded perspective to the world around them. They understand that all individuals possess different experiences and access to opportunities that shape who they are. They embrace everyone’s unique contributions that help inform the collective good. As leaders who can find comfort in uncertainty and approach the world with a sense of curiosity, they are ready to challenge the status quo and are eager to learn, unlearn, and relearn for the sake of productive innovation.

Compassionate leaders are effective communicators who are skilled at active listening, relationship-building, and facilitation of inclusive dialogue. Research shows that those who are compassionate foster strong teams and lead organizations that accomplish goals and work toward achieving societal impact. Participants reflected this idea throughout the accelerator, acknowledging that organizations must consider people—as well as planet—as rightsholders, since we cannot do business on a dead planet.

Compassion in Practice
Compassionate leaders employ empathy and honesty that allow them to forge strong interpersonal connections. These leaders recognize that strong bonds create tight-knit teams that can rally in times of need and find solutions to future challenges.
Through a deeper understanding of one’s true self, including purpose, personal limits, individual talents, and vulnerabilities, leaders can effectively engage with others with a sense of humility and recognition of everyone’s unique contributions. Authentic leaders create a safe environment for others to contribute in meaningful ways.
All leaders should be skilled communicators, but compassionate leaders are also expert listeners. These individuals possess the emotional intelligence to recognize verbal and nonverbal cues, underlying themes, and circumstantial contexts that impact key messaging. An open mindset allows them to withhold judgment while inspiring constructive discussion that can lead to collective change.
“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

The following works guided the thinking around the compassion competency:


In an increasingly polarized world, leaders must address challenges with a different mindset and take actions to prevent present, unfavorable systems from repeating. By honoring multiple perspectives on societal challenges, leaders enable more nuanced thinking and can collectively create innovative solutions.

Individuals who are proficient in depolarization recognize uncertainty and ambiguity and can bridge differences without reducing the complexity of values and models associated with those differences. They understand causes of apprehension and, through authentic connections, can create a sense of belonging to neutralize tensions. Leaders with this competency are more open to identifying unconscious bias and possess broad cultural appreciation and understanding.

Successful leaders evaluate the level of polarization in a given environment or situation and aim to uncover root causes. Through authentic curiosity, they create a space for all to learn from the complexity rather than cast judgment. Further, they refute binary thinking and work to find a "third way" in negotiations.

Depolarization in Practice

Leaders who are depolarizing develop self-awareness and strive to understand the cultural and contextual elements and interdependencies that can lead to tensions. They possess the ability to slow down and reflect on their inner and external triggers, biases, and experiences so they can regulate their emotions and effectively deescalate divisive situations.

These individuals are adept at mediating disputes because they create space that is nonjudgmental and seek to understand situations at a high level, rather than searching for fault. Such leaders embrace authentic connections and can effectively negotiate while avoiding dehumanizing individuals with differing views.

In their journeys to better understand what contributes to polarization, these leaders are also unafraid to speak up when an injustice has occurred or take a risk when decisive action is needed. Polarization often results from conditions of uncertainty and anxiety. Having the courage to show humility and expose vulnerabilities allows individuals to steer away from 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

The following works guided the thinking around the depolarization competency:


Exemplars of the paradox competencies exhibit the ability to recognize and function with the coexistence of contradictory yet interrelated ideas, perspectives, and factors. Leaders who exhibit a paradox mindset accept that there are multiple ways of knowing and being and welcome such contradictions in their decision-making. They approach challenges with a sense of curiosity. The VUCA and Bani models provide ways leaders can cope with paradox in productive ways.

Those who embrace paradox frequently engage in self-awareness and self-reflection and readily adapt to other perspectives or ways of understanding when evaluating situations.

In the context of business, paradox requires leaders to refrain from instinctually resolving contradictions, as doing so can eliminate critical differences in thought. Successful leaders embrace the interdependence of tensions, rather than their separation, as a device for long-term organizational strategy, innovation, and progress.

Paradox in Practice

It is human nature to seek resolution amid contradictory ideas, as sitting in paradox is inherently uncomfortable. However, leaders who embrace paradox recognize how the interdependence among seemingly competing elements allows for greater understanding of the problem itself.

In complex situations, leaders are willing to consider and adapt to multiple ways of knowing and being. These leaders facilitate complex dialogue by using active listening, communicating clear objectives, and viewing the situation from a variety of perspectives, while suspending judgment on what is right or wrong.

Dealing with conflict constructively requires leaders to meet challenges as they arise and create open spaces that preserve diversity of thought. Effective leaders can leverage this diversity to enable organizational innovation and change for success.

“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

The following works guided the thinking around the paradox competency:

What’s Next?

Shifting mindsets on leadership and implementing positive societal change that is sustainable takes time. Accordingly, these takeaways are the first iteration of an ongoing exploration. Accelerator One participants concluded with the following questions to help guide future accelerators:

  • How can the essence of each competency that emerged from the accelerator be maintained during the next stage to ensure they support desired future states and don’t unintentionally reproduce the status quo?
  • How can societal impact be embedded into the definition of each competency?
  • How much can we really change a system from within, especially when the system is part of the dominant paradigm?
  • How can standards with shared criteria be adapted to take a regenerative, living-systems approach to achieve positive societal impact?
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 
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.

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


Thirteen senior impact leaders joined the Accelerator One cohort from business, the social sector, government, and academia. The cohort offered a new understanding of our existent and potential futures. Most of the leaders brought decades of impact experience to the accelerator for a rich peer learning environment. 

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