Global Responsibility Starts at Home

“We want to prepare our students to become responsible leaders, and maybe even leaders that are able to invent new business models,” explains André Sobczak, Director of Research at the Audencia School of Management, in Nantes, France. Teaching students about global responsibility is a growing trend among business schools, he believes, and it is one for which Audencia can offer real leadership.  

Audencia’s commitment to global responsibility is long-standing and deep. It was the first French higher education institution to sign the United Nations’ Global Compact, and among the first institutions in the world to sign the UN’s Principles of Responsible Management Education (PRME), which it had a hand in defining.

As the global economy increases in complexity, Sobczak expects that students will need to become ever more versatile: “We want to show our students that a lot of the opportunities in business are now available in different types of organisations – not only in the big companies that they have traditionally focused on, but in SMEs [small and medium enterprises], in NGOs, and in public institutions as well.”  

Research through Partnership
The intersection of global responsibility and entrepreneurship is an increasingly important issue among Audencia faculty and student researchers. There is a great amount of interest surrounding consumer expectations for responsibly produced products and services. For example, Audencia has developed a research partnership with ERDF, a major French electricity provider, to investigate some of the ethical challenges presented by technological advances in customer relationship management. While the company wants to introduce “smart grids” that give consumers much greater understanding and control of their energy use, there is a risk that consumers will view such data gathering and monitoring as intrusive. Researchers at Audencia are helping the company to find balance – to provide the benefits of the new technology in ways that safeguard against infringing on consumer privacy.

In the realm of supply chain management, Audencia’s researchers are addressing the interface between management and engineering. This work is also closely connected to the school’s teaching of global responsibility – recently the school won two major public contracts to explore how supply chains can be organized to minimize greenhouse gas emissions.

Global responsibility is, of course, a major challenge for the international banking sector as well. Audencia’s research leadership in the area of microfinance has led to studies on how banks within France can best utilize microfinance tools to boost emerging economies. The entrepreneurial perspective that Audencia is known for is facilitating major change in the flow of development funds.

Partners, Not Just Case Studies
As a business school with global responsibility and entrepreneurship at its core, Audencia does not treat business partners as fodder for testing academic theories. Instead, the school is committed to strengthening its research activities through two-way partnerships with local businesses.

“From the beginning we have tried to develop projects that would bring some added value for regional SMEs,” says Sobczak. One such forum for cooperation is Audencia’s Institute for Global Responsibility and Entrepreneurship, which, for example, gives out annual awards for the most innovative and responsible strategies and practices.

It is a model Sobczak would like to build upon: “We think that we have a role to play in bringing in new ideas from the outside to our regional companies. To have our research both internationally recognized and also to work with companies – particularly companies at a regional level – is unique among business schools.” Moreover, regular presentations by regional businesses representatives and by innovators and business leaders from further afield, provide students with key learning opportunities.

Looking forward, Sobczak would like to take that partnership with local and international business to a new level. “I’d like to have our research spread more widely, via the internet, blogs, and professional journals. I want us to go back to the companies we work with to tell them what we have learned, and what they can learn from our research. We plan to help our professors be better able to communicate the results of their research to the non-academic public. We need do more to show that our research is useful not only for academic citations, but also for business and other stakeholders.”