Responsibility as a Competitive Edge
Shown left: André Sobczak, Director of Audencia’s Institute for Global Responsibility
NGOs and other groups that take a critical view of business activities may not expect a warm welcome at all business schools, but that is what they receive at Audencia Nantes. Meeting with such groups is a key part of degree courses for students at Audencia.
“Perhaps tomorrow, as managers, the students will face critical voices. They have to understand what others think about business and find way of cooperating with them,” says André Sobczak, Director of Audencia’s Institute for Global Responsibility. “The best students want to have their values and assumptions challenged.”
Global responsibility—the study of economic, social and environmental responsibility issues—is woven through all the postgraduate business courses at Audencia Nantes. The school sees it as one of the ways it sets itself apart from other French and international business schools. Audencia is the only institution of higher education that has formed a strategic partnership with the environmental NGO WWF. The term “global responsibility” is broader than corporate social responsibility, Sobczak says. It goes beyond purely corporate concerns.
Audencia’s Institute for Global Responsibility has 15 professors, and there are plans for growth. The institute wants to recruit academics with international experience in global responsibility together with expertise in marketing, finance or supply chain management.
Audencia business students graduate with a double competency, Sobczak says. They will have mastered technical business specialisms. But just as importantly, they also will be able to assess the broader implications of their decisions against environmental, social and economic criteria.
Sobczak believes that understanding social and environmental challenges and opportunities gives Audencia managers a competitive edge. Shareholders and investors want to know that company managers understand the social and environmental risks as well as the potential economic benefits of a decision. Consumers—and employees—want company leaders with inspiring values that they can buy into.
The emphasis is on “economic”—while social and environmental considerations cannot be introduced as afterthoughts, sustainability begins with economic viability.
Company involvement at the core
Local and international companies are closely involved in the Institute’s teaching and research. The Institute hosts Global Responsibility Awards each year. Audencia students are trained to audit companies’ global responsibility performance. The winning companies gain recognition for their ethical and long-term strategies, the students experience global responsibility as it is actually practiced, and Institute professors gain insights into how globally responsible strategies are applied and can be improved.
One key area of research at Audencia is how companies can build partnerships with NGOs and other stakeholders to develop responsible products and improve their expertise. Building environmental and social considerations into supply chain management and product design are two further areas of vital research. A fourth is responsible finance.
Sobczak emphasizes the Institute’s international focus: Half the courses are taught in English, half in French. But “broadness” might be a better way to describe what the Institute and the School are trying to achieve.
Students can be found at Audencia attending an evening presentation on “The Development of the Cinema Industry in India,” for example, or taking courses in art or design. Not exactly standard business school fare.
“We view our students as human beings,” Sobczak explains. “Those courses are sometimes linked to global responsibility, but the main aim is to help students gain other kinds of skills that will help them to develop their own personality.”
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