Business Stepping In Where Governments Fear to Act

The task of facing global challenges can no longer be borne by governments alone. Large scale multi-sectorial approaches involving multi-stakeholders can achieve sustainable development goals, so business schools are taking the lead, offering the motivation and skills to put global challenges at the heart of how they create value. Meanwhile, the Friends of Rio+20, a coalition of high level business, scientific and civil society leaders convened by the World Economic Forum, is showing that business means business! Read More

By Anthony Buono, Jean-Christophe Carteron and Matthew Gitsham for Financial Times (11 June 2012):

This week is the 20th anniversary of the UN’s 1992 Rio earth summit. More than 300 leaders from the world’s business schools will convene in Rio de Janeiro as the third global forum of the Principles for Responsible Management Education kicks off the Rio+20 conference on sustainable development.

Rio+20 will bring together world leaders to make decisions that could lead to a healthier, more equitable and prosperous world for all. In time this could lead to the adoption of an economic model – sustainable development – that focuses on building prosperity for the medium and long term.

It is significant that business schools are opening this gathering. At the first Rio summit, business leaders were at the margins and business schools were nowhere to be seen. But it is now the norm for business leaders to play a central role in creating the future we want alongside political and civil society leaders.

In a UN report produced for Rio+20 – Leadership in a Rapidly Changing World – it is the chairs and chief executives of some of the world’s most influential businesses who are calling for business schools to accelerate this change. They are urging schools to develop business leaders who are motivated and equipped to put global challenges at the heart of how they create value.

Business schools have moved from the fringes to centre stage: accelerating the shift in the mindset of managers is one of the most influential interventions that can be made in the transition to a global society that has sustainable development as its economic model. This is why Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary-general, and corporate signatories to the UN Global Compact led the call to create PRME in 2007.

On one level, the news is encouraging. A guide produced for Rio+20 illustrates the changes taking place in business schools across the globe. Many institutions are changing curricula, refocusing pedagogy and research and reorienting campus operations, aided by increasingly visible sustainability initiatives.

Yet, while these changes are promising, we need to do much more. Business schools must recognise that creating a generation of professionals who understand the critical importance of sustainable practice needs to be at the core of all that we do.

The dialogue at Rio+20 will build further consensus on the path business schools must follow in the next decade. Many faculty members are already embracing this challenge, acting as change agents within their institutions, but many are not.

We need to engage systematically with our colleagues to help motivate and equip them to embrace this vision in their teaching and research, whatever their subject specialisation. And we need senior figures in business schools to understand and champion why this is important and to lead the cultural shift required to reach this goal.

But although change will come from within, business schools need help from others.

Governments need to support this cultural change through the incentives embedded in funding frameworks for higher education.

Business leaders need to give an even louder voice to their demands for a different kind of business graduate and make this clear in the way they recruit MBAs and purchase executive education.

And accrediting bodies and rankings providers – the AACSB, Equis, the Association of MBAs, BusinessWeek and the Financial Times – need to support business schools by assessing how schools are developing this generation of business leaders and placing this measure at the heart of their work.

Now is the time for us to work for the future that we want.

Anthony Buono is professor of management and sociology at Bentley university. Jean-Christophe Carteron is director of corporate social responsibility at Euromed Management. Matthew Gitsham is director of the Centre for Business and Sustainability at Ashridge. Written on behalf of the PRME global forum discussion leaders group.



The Friends of Rio+20 is a coalition of 26 high-level business, scientific and civil society leaders convened by the World Economic Forum.

The group calls on governmental leaders at Rio+20 to take actions aimed at marshalling large-scale multistakeholder coalitions to help governments achieve sustainable development.

To download the message of the Friends of Rio+20, including over 30 practical examples of such coalitions, please visit

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 20 June 2012 – Representatives of Friends of Rio+20, a coalition of global leaders from business, science and civil society, yesterday presented a joint message to the Co-Chairs of Rio+20, Izabella Teixeira, Minister of the Environment of Brazil, and Antonio de Aguiar Patriota, Minister of External Relations of Brazil. The group called on governments to take action to help accelerate progress towards global sustainable development.

The message, conveyed to government leaders gathered in Rio de Janeiro for the Rio+20 Summit, asks governments to take two specific actions:

-       Commit to designing economies that put the world on a path to sustainable development and to developing a clear set of ambitious, universal and equitable global goals

-       Invite multistakeholder, multi-country coalitions of willing and able actors to undertake sets of actions to help achieve these goals

At the heart of the Friends of Rio+20’s message is the belief that, with over 900 million people experiencing hunger, 1.4 billion lacking access to electricity and clean water and 600 million jobs needing to be created this decade, the magnitude and time sensitivity of these challenges require the international community to adopt a more practical, results-oriented approach to organizing progress.

The message explicitly encourages governments to enlist the support of a wider range of partners, not as a substitute for multilateral agreements or national plans, but as a way of translating their aspirations into additional action. By drawing more fully on the resources and expertise available in the business, civil society and academic communities, evidence suggests Rio+20 can leave a lasting legacy of accelerated progress on sustainable development.

Commenting on the agreement, Josette Sheeran, Vice-Chairman of the World Economic Forum, said: “The complex challenges of our time require bold, new solutions that unite all stakeholders in common purpose. This new model of multistakeholder coalition is critical in delivering sustainable development goals at scale. This is the most powerful way to develop and deliver a truly transformational agenda for change.”

Minister Patriota, receiving the message from Friends of Rio+20, said: “The size and urgency of the world’s sustainable development challenges are so great that no one single government or international agency acting alone can solve them. A model based on strong leadership from international and national governments, supported by a variety of actors, represents the best way of harnessing the combined skills, creativity and resources available to us as we strive to make progress towards our goals.”

“To create the future we want, we will need real leadership from governments. We will also need to recognize the vast potential for action by coalitions of the committed – national governments, cities, companies and civil society groups who are ready to come together to make sustainable development a reality,” said Jim Leape, Director-General, WWF International, World Wide Fund for Nature, Switzerland.


1. Sir Fazle H. Abed, Founder and Chairperson, BRAC, Bangladesh

2. James Bacchus, Chair, World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council Governance for

Sustainability, Greenberg Traurig LLP, USA

3. Peter Bakker, President, World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD),


4. Marcos Bicudo, Chief Executive Officer; President CBDES (Brazil Business Council for

Sustainable Development), Philips Latin America, Brazil

5. Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, Chairman of the Board, Nestlé, Switzerland

6. Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC),


7. Cynthia Carroll, Chief Executive, Anglo American Plc, UK

8. Frederico Curado, Chief Executive Officer, Embraer, Brazil

9. Carlos Fadigas, Chief Executive Officer, Braskem , Brazil

10. Gao Jifan, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Trina Solar Ltd, People’s Republic of China

11. Bekele Geleta, Secretary-General, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent

Societies, Switzerland

12. Vitor Hallack, Chairman of the Board, Camargo Corrêa, Brazil

13. Muhtar Kent, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, The Coca-Cola Company, USA

14. Caio Koch-Weser, Vice Chairman, Deutsche Bank Group, Germany

15. Barbara Kux, Chief Sustainability Officer and Member of the Managing Board, Siemens AG,


16. Jim Leape, Director General, WWF International, Switzerland

17. Lee Yuan Tseh, President, Nobel Laureate, International Council of Science, France

18. Paul Polman, Chief Executive Officer, Unilever, Netherlands/ United Kingdom

19. Maria Ramos, Chief Executive, Absa Group and Chief Executive, Barclays Africa, South


20. Johan Rockström, Executive Director, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Sweden

21. Richard Samans, Executive Director, Global Green Growth Institute, Korea

22. Josette Sheeran, Vice-Chairman, World Economic Forum, Switzerland

23. Wang Shi, Chairman, China Vanke Co. Ltd, People’s Republic of China

24. B.G. Srinivas, Member of the Board, Infosys, India

25. Maurice Strong, Chairman of the Advisory Board, Institute for Research on Security and

Sustainability for Northeast Asia, People’s Republic of China

26. Ben J. Verwaayen, Chief Executive Officer, Alcatel Lucent, France

A total of 15 Business leaders and 12 scientific and civil society leaders

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