Architects for a Better World: Business School Responses to the Post 2015 Business Engagement Architecture

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: University of Newcastle Business School


At the UN Global Compact Leaders' Summit in September 2013, a new 'global architecture' for corporate sustainability was launched and the 'Post - 2015 Business Engagement Architecture' consultation report published. This initiative identifies the private sector as having a pivotal role in delivering sustainable development and a more just society. It links sustainable development priorities with long-term business goals in terms of growth, social equity, environmental protection and risk management. It also make a call to academia to be involved as partners in this debate, and specifically invites Business Schools to work with businesses in 'collaborative platforms to develop curricula and research programmes that provide current and future business leaders with the necessary mind-sets, skills and knowledge to lead companies to more sustainable outcomes' (p.17).

This Seminar Series proposal is a direct response by a group of researchers from UK and Irish business schools, together with a representative from a major professional body, to this call. All of the co-investigators are part of existing academic, professional, and policy networks including: the UN Global Compact UK Network; the UN Women Network; the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW); Business in the Community; the Principles of Responsible Management Education (PRME) Regional Chapter for UK and Ireland; the PRME Working Group on Gender Equality; the Centre of Social and Environmental Accounting Research; and the British Academy of Management Sustainable and Responsible Business Special Interest Group. Together we bring together a new network of researchers.

This proposal answers the invitation to engage with business and policy contained in the 'Architecture' document and it is structured in such a way that will stimulate research with business stakeholders in the priority areas identified in the document as falling within poverty reduction, education, gender equality, health, food, water and energy, social stability, infrastructure, technology, and governance.

Each seminar will take as its theme one of these areas identified in the 'Architecture' document, and aligned with the interests of at least one of the Investigators in this bid. It is intended that each seminar, from seminar 3 onwards, will also include a paper which will be the result of direct research undertaken with UNGC member companies to enhance relevance and potential impact, and demonstrate the advantages in this respect, of the co-production of knowledge. The ICAEW has agreed to publish for each seminar, a briefing document, and following each seminar, a monograph and a practitioner summary for dissemination. Academic journal articles are also anticipated from each seminar, and a book to offer the combined contributions and debates is also planned.

The theme of each seminar will be circulated well in advance of the date of delivery to as wide a range of stakeholders as can be identified but including the networks associated with the investigators in this proposal. At least two academic research papers will be prepared in advance and a response sought from business/practice. A debate will follow. In the afternoon, selected papers from PhD students who have been invited to submit papers for presentation will be made with replies from respondents, both academic and practitioner. This is designed to further new research capacity in the topic areas and enable the development of PhD students and ECRs. A further paper presentation will be made and following a panel debate a reflective summary will be given on relevance and future directions for research.

There is also an international dimension to the series, with the inclusion of a seminar in Ireland, drawing on Irish networks and businesses, and a seminar at Kedge Business School, France, building on an existing 'Research Chair' engaging UN Compact companies in Europe investigating new business models.

Planned Impact

Taking as its departure point the call to engage business, civil society networks, policymakers and academia in a process to facilitate a movement towards a fairer and more sustainable future, outlined by the 'Architects of a Better World: Building the Post-2015 Business Engagement Architecture', published by the United Nations Global Compact, the range of interested parties in, and beneficiaries of, this research exercise is extremely wide. The series will address a number of issues relating to sustainable development relating to the UN's post-2015 goals. By focusing on private sector involvement in aspects of poverty, health, resources, governance, women's empowerment and equality, education and technology, this series will engage many stakeholders in government departments, NGOs, the professions and charities, as well as academia, in exploring ways to facilitate changes in attitudes, behaviour and policy. Having the support of the UNGC UK Network in the project allows a level of confidence that as the events unfold, the level of awareness among policymakers, business leaders and third sector organisations will be maintained.

Members companies of the UNGC UK Network will also be invited to participate in programmes of research focusing on the themes of the seminars and the results of the research presented as part of the series as it unfolds (from the third seminar onwards).

The format of the seminars is designed to encourage stakeholder engagement from within these groups from the outset, by making their contribution to each event, as respondents to the academic presentations, central to the ethos of the seminars, and thereafter by opening up each session to debate with contributions from the floor. Each seminar has space for presentations from PhD students and early career researchers to evidence some of the range of research topics that are under investigation by research students at our business schools and universities.

Two of the seminars will be held outside the UK, one in Ireland and the other in France, to draw on networks of researchers with strands of research already developing in connected areas, enabling the reach of the impact to relate to companies, NGOs and academics within wider areas of Europe.

Additionally, with the backing and financial support from the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales in the form of publicity and publications, a briefing document will be prepared in advance of each seminar. Thereafter, a stand-alone periodical, comprising a summary of each presentation and response, in language designed to appeal and be of relevance to practitioners and non-academic stakeholders, will be published and distributed to members of all the networks, along with a 'professional briefing' specifically for ICAEW members. With members of the ICAEW holding high office across many institutions in the UK and abroad, the reach of this initiative will be extended as far as possible. Press releases will be made to the financial press in the UK, and abroad where appropriate.

It is the intention of the investigators that research undertaken in the three years duration of the series will make a significant contribution to the call made in the 'Architecture' document, and has the potential to shape behavioural change in many aspects of business, and promote the co-creation of knowledge in the spheres of business, third sector activity and departmental policy at a government level.

Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
ES/M002470/1 31/12/2014 31/01/2016 £30,489
ES/M002470/2 Transfer ES/M002470/1 01/02/2016 29/06/2018 £27,013
Description The award was for a seminar series on the role of business and business schools in addressing the challenges arising from the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). At the time of the grant award the SDGs had not been finalised, but during the seminar series these were agreed, enabling focus on the crucial role of business schools and business in addressing sustainable development.
The seminar series was at the cutting edge of the interface between business educators and United Nations policy, as encouraged by the original Architecture document on which it was based. It stimulated extensive debate about the role of business and business educators in addressing the SDGs. Specifically, it addressed issues such as hunger, poverty, women's empowerment and gender equality, and peace, which are not regularly associated with the role of business and business schools. In this sense, it provoked new thinking and knowledge, and opened up new questions on the role of business educators. Directly or indirectly, the seminar series led to a number of initiatives now being pursued further at related institutions, which will generate new knowledge. For example, at the University of Winchester two PhD studentships are specifically addressing SDGs 1 and 10, Poverty and Inequality. Another example would be the development of a partnership between the University of Hull and the UN University for Peace, with new curricula relating to business and peace. The seminar at the University of Limerick addressing the role of multi-national corporations in tax avoidance was highly prescient of later public debates on this issue.
The series was particularly noteworthy in cementing existing networks and promoting new collaborations. It enabled close working with the UK and Ireland Chapter of the Principles of Responsible Management Education, a global initiative to realise the SDGs through responsible management education, with over 50 member institutions in the UK and Ireland, and with the British Academy of Management Sustainability and Social Responsibility Special Interest group. It was supported by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) who provided insights into the role of professions in this space. It involved international academics and researchers from the USA, Germany, Columbia, Equador, South Africa, and Costa Rica. It also involved contributors from civil society, representing major institutions such as United Nations, OECD, Christian Aid and Oxfam Ireland, which met the objective of engagement, interaction and mutual learning between stakeholders within business, academia, policy and civil society on issues of sustainable business.
The series delivered enhancement of research capability in this complex interdisciplinary field by incorporating a specific early career researcher (ECR) development workshop, facilitated by established international scholars, to support ECRs in publication and further research. This was very well attended and obtained excellent feedback.
It also delivered enhancement of education practice on the SDGs by providing opportunities to reflect on curriculum content, teaching practice and student experience, particularly in the seminar run in conjunction with the UK and Ireland Chapter of the Principles of Responsible Management Education.
Exploitation Route The realisation that the education, research and broader initiatives of business schools goes beyond the usual economic paradigm to address wider social, and environmental issues inherent in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is an important message which is gaining momentum in the Business School sector. The need to undertake interdisciplinary research which addresses these systemic issues is growing, yet its delivery is difficult. The capacity building stimulated and undertaken by the seminar series will benefit the development of expertise and capability in this regard. Others can further the debate on how business becomes more sustainable and addresses the SDGs. The seminar series has supported the development of academic capacity in addressing the SDGs through its connection with the UN Principles of Responsible Management Education UK and Ireland Chapter and the British Academy of Management Sustainability and Social Responsibility Special Interest group and through building international networks.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Construction,Creative Economy,Education,Energy,Environment,Financial Services, and Management Consultancy,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Government, Democracy and Justice,Transport

Description When the seminar series was first envisaged, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) had not yet been agreed. The investigators were responding to a United Nations Global Compact scoping document - Architects of a Better World - Building the Post 2015 Architecture - calling for universities, but in particular Business Schools, to engage with the final outcomes of the SDGs. In this scoping document a number of key areas that were likely to feature strongly as goals were identified, around which our seminar series was constructed. The series aimed to raise awareness of the emergent post-2015 architecture around sustainability. As the series evolved, the SDGs were adopted by world leaders in September 2015 at an UN Summit and came officially into force on 1 January 2016. It became clear that the initial foci of the series were indeed included within the 17 SDGs. Two key aims of the seminar series were to: 1. Explore the potential for business and academic interaction to develop improved approaches to delivering sustainable development and address the post-2015 UN goals. 2. Enable engagement, interaction and mutual learning between stakeholders within business, academia, policy and civil society on issues of sustainable business. Both of these aims were to support non-academic impact, in terms of stimulating and influencing debates on sustainability in advance of the publication of the SDGs. It is difficult to make claims of direct impact on society and economies from a seminar series. However, our series was at the forefront of a groundswell of opinion and awareness on the need to address more sustainable economies and societies, which was prescient of the final SDGs. As the SDGs were confirmed in place, corporations, civil society and other academic institutions were developing their approaches to the SDGs. The series saw many delegates from business and civil society, who were involved in developing their own institutional responses to the SDGs, attending to be better informed about the issues. Specific examples of organisations (non-academic) who presented at and engaged with the seminar series include: United Nations Global Compact; OECD; Christian Aid; Oxfam Ireland; Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales (ICAEW); Tax Justice Network; Financing for Development Office of the United Nations; management consultants and representatives from the legal profession. We believe that the series was influential in embedding the impact of the SDGs in business and civil organisations. Contemporaneously, the PI and lead CI were instrumental in the development of the UN Principles of Responsible Management Education (PRME) initiative. While this global movement began in 2007, a major shift occurred in 2012 when the UN granted the establishment of regional networks. In 2014, the lead CI became the founding chair of the UK and Ireland Chapter and the PI became a member of the PRME Advisory Board. PRME adopted the SDGs as its focus. Within this synergistic relationship, the seminar series was able to influence the engagement, interaction and mutual learning on the SDGs with higher education institutions involved in the UK & Ireland Chapter as well as business organisations. Indeed, one seminar was co-hosted with PRME. The PRME initiative has influenced the sustainability practices and policies of many higher education institutions, including those of the PI and CIs, who are advanced signatories to PRME.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Education,Financial Services, and Management Consultancy,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services