Cultivating Values: How business schools can plant the seeds of change

Earlier this year, an article titled “Occupy Our Business Schools” was published in Bloomberg’s Businessweek addressing growing concerns about the lack of ‘social consciousness’ in capitalism and the role of business schools. The authors pointed to the inadequacy of business schools in teaching students to think about all aspects of business practices in terms of their social and ethical implications. By relegating corporate social responsibility (CSR) education as an elective or optional track of studies, “Business schools don’t act as if CSR were an integral part of accounting, finance, marketing, and so on,” the authors state. In this article, Responsible Business looks at what business schools in Lebanon and around the world are doing to address social and environmental issues and whether the schools walk the talk with CSR initiatives of their own. 

As the hottest topic on the academic auction block, the integration of CSR in the curriculum of business schools, even among those considered top tier, is relatively recent. While schools may have offered a mandatory business ethics course or two, it was not until the Enron bankruptcy scandal in 2001 that attention was drawn to the values being taught to students.  Six years later, the underlying causes of the global financial collapse of 2007 and the ensuing debate about the ethics of Wall Street further propelled the concept of CSR onto the main stage. 

Many of the top CSR programs can be found in U.S. business schools. The Aspen Institute’s ‘Beyond the Grey Pinstripes’, ranks business schools based on their social, ethical, and environmental content rather than traditional variables of scoring, providing an annual list of the Universities leading the way in sustainable business education.  The top ten schools making the cut all offered student’s hands-on experience in sustainable business practices while allowing them to develop ideas and projects that can have real-world impact.

One school consistently in the top three on the Aspen Institutes list is California’s Stanford University.  The school offers the Center for Social Innovation which has been combining research, education, and action to make a real impact on the world’s toughest sustainability issues since 1999.  The problems the Center addresses include fixing public schools, ending extreme poverty through capacity building, and addressing conservations issues.  The school also boasts the Emmett interdisciplinary program in Environment and Resources as part of their educational offerings.  The program allows business students to work on solving environmental and sustainability problems with a focus on bio-design innovation and extreme affordability.   

Although NYU’s Stern School of Business was not included in the 2011-2012 ranking, the program offers a social impact track which incorporates CSR to ‘make connections between business and society by learning and doing.’  The school also offers the Social Impact Initiative which provides 8 options for students to work with a program trying to make social change. At the graduate level, students can participate in the Social Impact Internship Fund (SIIF) which provides a financial stipend of up to $10,000 to support first-year MBA students who wish to complete a summer internship at a non-profit organization, a for-profit social enterprise, or who want to start their own social ventures. 


Progressive Model

As a leader in CSR research, England’s Cranfield University is home to the Doughty Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility headed by Professor David Grayson.  The center aims to, “empower current and future managers with the knowledge, skills, and desire to lead responsible, sustainably managed organizations,” while engaging with the private and public sectors to promote sustainable business practices in their organizations. 

Grayson is also a part of a collaborative effort between the World Business School Council of Sustainable Business (WBSCSB), the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative (GRLI), and the U.N. backed Principles of Responsible Management Education (PRME) which brings together experts in various fields to determine the role of business in creating a sustainable future. As Grayson explains to Responsible Business, “The solutions put forward by the business school academics are radical and far-reaching; and cover research, teaching and practice; and how academia inter-relates with business, Civil Society and governments.” 

One portion of the project is dedicated to management education where scholars are invited to share their thoughts on how re-conceptualize business management education; to work towards developing a paradigm which moves away from 20th century methodologies into a progressive model that produces responsible business leaders who are able to think contextually while integrating ethics and knowledge into their decision-making process. 

The purpose of 50+20 is to foster debate among business educators and practitioners.  “I would like to see the faculty of each of the more than 13,000 business schools pushed to hold a faculty discussion about the report and the proposed changes in management education: to discuss the analysis and proposals for change - and explore collective responses,” states Grayson. 


Responding to Trends

CSR education is also beginning to gain momentum in the Middle East as business schools begin to recognize the importance of including the concept in their curricula. The spectrum of integration of CSR in the business school programs in Lebanese universities ranges from including a section about social and environmental sustainability in a required business ethics course to offering a multi-faceted approach which is aimed at making sustainability a natural part of the thought process of business students.

The fervor towards introducing CSR as a formal concept at business schools has resulted in a shifting paradigm about what role businesses and business people play in society. As Dr. Said Elfakhani, dean of the School of Business at the Lebanese American University (LAU), explains, “…there is somehow an accusation between what we teach in business schools and the practice of graduates when they graduate and become officers in their companies.”  This accusation has changed the way business schools are conceptualizing their role as educators of tomorrow’s business leaders. 

 “CSR has become an integral part of business practice.  It is no longer a luxury that businesses can choose to take part in, but rather a necessity that should be institutionalized at the core of the strategy of any business,” expressed Dima Jamali,Professor at The American University of Beirut’s (AUB) Olayan School of Business (OSB). 

 In a similar sentiment, Abdel-Maoula Chaar, Professor at the adjacent Ecoles Superieure des Affaires (ESA), explained his school’s motivation in integrating CSR into their curriculum.  “I think it is necessary that businessmen realize that business is not only about making money. And, it’s not only about maximizing profit.” 

The decision to introduce CSR into the curriculum is not always based on calculated attempts to keep up with academic trends. Professor at L’Université Saint-Joseph de Beyrouth, Leonel Mattar, expressed a personal motivation in introducing sustainable business practices to the department. “I am very sensitive to the environment, to social responsibility, to human beings, to all our problems,” he explains, “I teach sustainable development in general and for Lebanon.  I try to discuss with my students about CSR and about how they can improve their way of doing business…”


Sowing the Land

Currently, the majority of CSR knowledge is based on the experiences of American and European corporations. There is an emerging demand for research on how the theories and implementation of CSR applies to corporations operating within a Middle Eastern context. 

AUB’s Dr. Jamali explains the University’s role stating, “AUB is one of the few universities in the Middle East that has engaged in systematic academic regional research pertaining to CSR, which has translated into a number of pioneering publications to the dynamics and changing practice of CSR in our region.” Aside from the current research efforts, the University plans to establish a Center of Excellence in CSR, which will be committed to the education and institutionalization of CSR in Lebanon and the region. 

Approaching the research from a pure business school perspective, ESA’s Dr. Chaar is also working to develop a case study center intended to gather information.  He believes that, while they can be complimentary to each other, the role of a business school is different than that of University.  “A University, eventually, will spread knowledge. A business school is much more geared on immediate efficiency.  So, eventually we are spreading the same knowledge but we are trying to communicate the knowledge that our students will be able to use immediately,” he explains. 

At Balamand University, Elie Menassa is leading the research on CSR.  His most recent publication deals with the social disclosures of Lebanese commercial banks.  MBA students are also increasingly producing a significant amount of CSR research at the University.  “Two years ago, nobody used to talk about corporate social responsibility.  Now, of twenty proposals, I will see two to three about CSR and this is quite an improvement,” states Menassa.  A piqued interest in the development of CSR within the network of Jesuite business schools prompted Lionel Mattar at the University of Saint Joseph to devise a survey for his colleagues in 25 universities around the world.  “I was trying to understand how they conceive CSR, how they perceive sustainable development, what is the future of CSR in their countries?” Matar explained.   The survey will be distributed in around three months and Matar hopes to publish the results in the Journal of Management for Global Sustainability.  

Notre Dame University (NDU) is home to the Water Energy and Environment Research Center and is currently developing the Lebanese Center for Societal Research, both of which aim to get a better understanding of the social and environmental issues strongly impacting Lebanon. The research from these centers can then be applied in the classroom to stimulate CSR strategy development.


Going to Market

University partnerships with the private sector can expose students to the challenges of developing and implementing CSR initiatives in the real world.  This exposure can also enrich the learning experience in the classroom as students gain better insight about the material being taught.  While none of the Universities in Lebanon have programs which team students up with corporate CSR departments for training, some schools have started to develop relationships with key players in the private sector. 

 Dr. Said Elfakhani LAU’s Business School Dean explains, “We haven’t reached that level yet, but I think we are coming to that point…We are the largest business school in the country, we’ll have a massive number of interns going to the market, we need a partner in the corporate sector to accept to take volunteers to come…but it takes some social responsibility action from companies to take approximately 700-800 students every year.”

AUB’s interaction with the private sector is exemplified in the Mikati CSR Speaker Series which has been inviting leading professionals in the region to share their views and insights about CSR since 2009.  Invited speakers have included representatives from Aramex, the ILO, and Cisco Systems among others.  


Impacting the Landscape

Partnerships between business schools and NGOs can stimulate interest in social and environmental issues among students while exposing them to ‘real-world’ problems.  This can stimulate the classroom experience by helping students put CSR theories and implementation plans into perspective. 

A proposal was recently approved at the business school in LAU which requires all business students to fulfill a semester of volunteer work with a local NGO through the ‘Outreach’ program on campus.  “We are going to make a concerted effort between the school of business and Outreach to organize, on a yearly basis, campaigns for business students to volunteer with NGOs on specific projects and the school of business can offer between 10,000 and 12,000 hours of volunteer work a year,” stated Dean Elfakhani.    

Currently, AUB students are exposed to NGOs through conferences and seminars with plans to further the relationship. “AUB is in close touch with various NGOs and there are definitely plans to collaborate with the nonprofit sector in taking CSR forward. NGOs certainly bring their own flavor or understanding of CSR issues on the ground,” explained Dr. Jamali. 

Partnerships with NGOs have not yet developed in other universities in Lebanon though many professors expressed a desire to do so in the near future.  “Several plans have been set for discussion on this subject”,  stated USEK’s Dean Dr. Nehme Azoury, “We are eager to announce our reciprocal membership agreements with the Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME, an initiative to inspire responsible management education, research and though leadership) and Institut International D’Audit Social (IAS, an association which seeks to design and implement new approaches in the ‘social’ field for decision makers). 

ESA’s Chaar confessed that the school is currently ‘flirting with two NGOs to be able to work together and address problems that they have…it’s easy for us because we are non-profitable. As long as we are breaking even, we can go in any direction.”

In March 2012, the Coca Cola Foundation introduced the ‘Ripples of Happiness’ program in partnership with Injaz Al-Arab and the Jordan Career Education Foundation.  The program helps students identify and implement projects which will have a positive impact on their communities.  The campaign took place in Universities across the Middle East, with AUB and LAU representing the Lebanese participants.

AUB also sponsors the annual International Biodiversity Day at AUB (IBDAA) where students have a chance to showcase their creativity and talent in a variety of approaches to address how to conserve, practice sustainability, and raise awareness about biodiversity issues. In 2010, IBDAA hosted around 300 students.


Walking the Talk

An added dimension to teaching CSR in universities is having a campus-wide CSR policy.  The intellectual, social, and physical resources a university can offer its local surroundings have the potential of engaging students in an area where most of their day is spent .

In 2010, the Université  Saint-Esprit De Kaslik launched the ‘Let’s Go Green for a Sustainable Future! Towards a Carbon Neutral University” with the goal of being the first carbon-neutral, resource efficient, zero emissions, internationally certified educational institution in Lebanon, which they hope to reach by 2025. 

AUB has two main centers that fulfill their commitment maintaining a healthy relationship with their environment; the Neighborhood Initiative and the Center for Civic Engagement and Community Service (CCECS). The Neighborhood Initiative is headed by Cynthia Myntti who explained that the conception of the initiative in 2007 was a result of a conversation with then President John Waterbury.  “I was a student here in the 70’s before the civil war and I was really struck by how the University had become isolated….So, President Waterbury and I conceived of the idea to engage the University in neighborhood issues.”  The Initiative’s activities fall under three main categories:  urban environment, community and well-being, and preserving the diversity of Ras Beirut. 

The Initiative has undertaken projects addressing the congestion in the area. One of the Initiatives more interesting projects dubbed, The University for Seniors’ is a program for older people based on the concept of pure learning. “It’s not like an adult education program where a paid instructor comes and gives a course and people leave.  It’s really about becoming a member of an organization and then everyone has something to contribute,” expressed Myntti.  

AUB’s CCECS is focused on developing a culture of service and civic leadership at AUB.  With the aim of exposing students, staff, and faculty to civic and social issues in the region, the center has initiated activities such as an annual volunteering fair, a mission to help blind citizens living in the area, and conservation activities among many others.

Similarly, LAU’s ‘Outreach’ program has the stated purpose to ‘bridge the gap between LAU and the communities around it. It encourages and empowers students to reach out and become agents of constructive change in their society.”  Some of the programs most recent activities include the annual NGO fair, the Model United Nations for middle and high school students, and the LAU Youth Leadership programs which targets students aged 12-14 to develop their leadership skills.

Balamand University is working with Sasaki Associates Consulting Firm to plan and design a sustainable campus.  Some changes already in place are the solar powered water heaters in the dormitory buildings, a campus-wide water filtering system, and initiatives to cut down on pollution.

At Antonine University, the recent launch of the recycling awareness campaign in partnership with Cimenterie Nationale and T.E.R.R.E. Liban partnered the university with the private and NGO sectors. The recycling program is part of a wider strategy towards environmental protection which includes water and energy conservation measures.  In 2011, the University underwent an energy audit in association with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

 Students in the above named programs have the opportunity to volunteer their time and provide manpower which allows them to develop sustainable management skills while applying their classroom knowledge in the ‘real-world’. But none of the programs are partnered with the business school to take advantage of the development and implementation knowledge students may provide.  


Reaping What You SowEnhancing the curricula of business schools will not only result in the development of more conscious and aware business leaders, it will also upgrade the status of the university.  As competition for enrollment gets more heated, universities must seek the edge that distinguishes them from their competition.  Offering CSR as an integral part of a business school education, one that allows students to make an impact while still in school can set a school apart while making a much needed difference within the society it operates. 


Sustainability Ratings in Education

The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) is helping to create a brighter future of opportunity for all by advancing sustainability in higher education. By creating a diverse community engaged in sharing ideas and promising practices, AASHE provides administrators, faculty, staff and students, as well as the business that serve them, with: thought leadership and essential knowledge resources; outstanding opportunities for professional development; and a unique framework for demonstrating the value and competitive edge created by sustainability initiatives.

 AASHE defines sustainability in an inclusive way, encompassing human and ecological health, social justice, secure livelihoods, and a better world for all generations.

 Their activities are designed to:

• Make sustainable practices the norm within higher education

• Facilitate institutional efforts to integrate sustainability into teaching, research, operations, and public engagement


• Disseminate knowledge and best practices and promote resource sharing


• Support all sectors of campus in achieving sustainability goals


  • Increase collaboration among individuals, institutions, and external partners to speed the adoption of sustainability practices


• Influence education policy so that sustainability is a focus at local, state and national levels

The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System™ (STARS) is a transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance. STARS® was developed by AASHE.


STARS is designed to:

 • Provide a framework for understanding sustainability in all sectors of higher education.


• Enable meaningful comparisons over time and across institutions using a common set of measurements

  developed with broad participation from the campus sustainability community.


• Create incentives for continual improvement toward sustainability.


• Facilitate information sharing about higher education sustainability practices and performance.


• Build a stronger, more diverse campus  sustainability community.


SourceResponsible Business Magazine




All, 2012