Learning to Make Responsibility Their Business

The 2012 program participants, including Abena Apau (second from right) and Bill Bakopanos (seventh from right).

As our globalized world becomes increasingly interconnected, the importance of globally minded corporate social responsibility is growing correspondingly in significance. For one week in March 2012, ten MBA students from The George Washington University School of Business (GWSB) travelled to Audencia Nantes School of Management to study what these changes mean in today’s businesses environment and to learn about European approaches to global responsibility.

The program, entitled Global Responsibility in the European Context, is run every March by Audencia, in cooperation with The GWSB. This year’s group included 31-year-old MBA student Abena Apau, who through her participation came to a deeper understanding of global responsibility: “[It] asks, ‘who are the people we touch and affect? How can we engage with them better? From stakeholders and shareholders to employees themselves…how does this fit into a business model?’”

Montreal-born Bill Bakopanos, another GWSB business student who participated in the program, agrees: “In today’s business environment, global responsibility includes three elements: social responsibility, environmental responsibility, and economic responsibility vis-à-vis the stakeholders of a company.” Such understanding and reflection is exactly what Audencia Nantes School of Management seeks to achieve in training informed and compassionate global business leaders.

Mixing real-world experience and classroom theory
The intensive five-day Global Responsibility in the European Context program offers a balanced mix of four classroom seminars and four visits to French companies, interspersed with team-based case studies. Bakopanos explains, “The site visits were definitely ‘real world.’ There was no sugar coating. And the classroom environment did a good job linking theory to real world practices.”

The seminars, given by professors at Audencia’s Institute for Global Responsibility, covered topics such as diversity management, supply chain, business ethics, and sustainability.

The company visits were purposefully diverse, including EDF (a leading energy supplier), Armor (a specialist in ink chemistry and printing technologies), Saunier Duval (a heating solutions provider), and Remy Cointreau (a producer of cognac and assorted liqueurs). Each business presented innovative strategies in global responsibility.

Apau appreciates the company-student interaction at Armor, which gave students the chance to make an active contribution to the companies’ approaches to global responsibility: “They asked for our feedback. What do US consumers care about? What do US businesses care about? The give-and-take totally elevated the experience.”

Regional differences in approaches to global responsibility
Students also gained tangible insights into regional differences in implementing global responsibility principles, which vary from country to country based on legal, economic, social, and cultural contexts. European and North American perspectives, for example, often diverge due to acute cultural differences. Bakopanos explains, “The EU is more focused on the employee portion of CSR initiatives and fair employee treatment. The US and North American contexts are broader and focus more on environmental aspects.”

Apau supports this notion, but adds that there are also fundamental cultural disparities in the definition of “responsibility” itself: “In the US, we’re still taking time to figure out what ‘responsibility’ means. Here [in the US], it has a more legal connotation. In Europe, businesses feel freer to have a conversation, essentially saying: ‘We can’t fix everything, but here’s what we can do.’”

Insights for the future
For aspiring business leaders Bakopanos and Apau, the program at Audencia Nantes School of Management provided priceless understanding and awareness of the evolving applications of global responsibility – awareness that they will carry with them into their future careers. From small-and-medium-sized enterprises to multinational conglomerates, global responsibility is now a corporate imperative embedded in business strategy.

Apau sums up her personal take-away from the program: “My greatest insight at Audencia? That the conversation about global responsibility and sustaining a business (i.e. making a profit) can take place together. That’s incredible to me. In France, they feel that they can do both at once. That they can help businesses and employees and be more efficient.”

Whether anchored in human resource management or marketing strategy, in France or the United States, the conversation on global responsibility is more relevant than ever. And for Apau, Bakopanos, and their fellow GWSB  students, Audencia has made that conversation come alive.