Aston Business School Blog

Social responsibility and sustainability

User AvatarPosted by Blogger . at 10/12/2010 11:38:31

By Dr John Blewitt, Director of the Lifelong Learning Centre, Aston University

Business is immensely important. It generates wealth and creates opportunity. It provides people with what they want through the incredible dynamic of producing goods and services. For many people, the ‘business of business is business’ or at least this is how many people used to see it. But not anymore. Business does not operate in a social, environmental or economic vacuum.

Most of us are now well aware of the massive challenges confronting the world in the 21st century – climate change, resource depletion, energy security, global poverty, biodiversity loss and a whole range of other risks and uncertainties. Given the immense power and potential of business to address these things it is now rather short sighted, indeed irresponsible, for business leaders and other practitioners to simply restate the old ‘business of business’ dictum. We are all on this planet together. In fact, we are part of it. We rely on it for everything including our capacity to generate wealth and opportunity. This means that many businesses are now looking seriously at their activities and missions from much wider, even holistic, perspectives.

New business models are being developed that will ensure wealth and opportunity is continually created in such a way as to bestow wide ranging social and environmental improvements. To do otherwise is becoming increasingly unthinkable.

A new MSc programme has been designed at Aston Business School to help existing and future business leaders to engage positively with the social, economic  and environmental agendas through their business practices. There is a lot to do because a lot is at stake.

Each week Carole Parkes and I will be offering our thoughts on issues of the moment and discussing some of the wider trends and tendencies that are affecting business, civil society and the environment everywhere.

Find our more about the MSc in Social Responsibility and Sustainability.


Multiple perspectives

Posted by Blogger . at 03/12/2010 14:47:34
By Cora Lynn Heimer Rathbone, Director of the Centre for Executive Development, Aston Business School

I am back! Survivor of return Qantas flights to Hong Kong, untroubled by engine issues and dazzled by the lights of that amazing city.

On the edge of East meets West, the city and its surrounding islands are a hive of activity, a confluence of different perspectives, impressive wealth, advanced engineering and teeming crowds scurrying in orderly patterns.  Mall after mall displays branded boutique after branded boutique to the point that it all merges into one phantasmagorical unbroken line of luxury. No point shopping. Not many are. Price tags frighten even the most comfortably heeled. Those who grace the stores with their presence float between display cabinets, sometimes modelling a bag. Others, like my daughter – recently arrived, a young team-leader for a global player on a two-year assignment - nonchalantly try on the odd Rolex “not the one with the gold face but the one with the mother-of-pearl back. Yes that’s it, with the diamonds.”  I glance sheepishly at my own Rolex, gold-faced and diamonded, and smile at my justification some twenty years ago to splurge. 

A short one-hour ferry away, seemingly contrasting Macau beaconed. The quaint down-town displays its Portuguese roots as unsophisticated shop after unsophisticated shop around the pedestrianized area sells almond cookies - so dry that ten days on I can still remember the feeling of having my jaws temporarily cemented – and dried-meats in blood-coloured sheets that look like liquorish. That is one part of Macau, dominated by the unlikely ruins of St Paul’s Church at the base of the city’s fortressed walls. A short taxi ride away, across the water causeway, over an impressive expanse of suspended bridge, we came to The City of Dreams, Hard Rock Cafe and The Venetian. Imagine over 100 football pitches side by side, gambling machines and tables lined as far as the eyes can see and beyond, many filled with Chinese players, some empty but for the croupiers anticipating their guests. And this housed within a mega shopping centre the likes of which I, an American, had never seen before. In fact, the Venetian itself, within which the largest casino in the world is housed, is a replica of Venice, complete with sun-set sky, canals and gondolas with singing gondoliers.

With the backdrop of this dramatic city and its surrounding islands, where mere mortals could be excused for thinking that not even the sky is the limit, one can see the benefits of superimposing multiple perspectives to break-down barriers of linear thinking.

Why not then use this sure-tested approach most often associated with creativity and out-of-the-box thinking to inform and structure mission critical decisions? Indeed, how dare we make momentous decisions in splendid isolation, or in the company of those who share our perspectives, who like ourselves share similar experiences? Especially, but not exclusively, when we have the time, how is it that we fail to consult widely to inform a richer, fuller view of the issues at hand?

Decision-making that, like brainstorming, brings in people with diverse perspectives is sure to be more robust than otherwise. Combine this with a clear auditable process that captures the ideas of different individuals, especially when each represents a different interest group, and you create a situation in which challenge and constructive debate is guaranteed to flush-out poorly considered and blinkered standpoints. By involving all who have a stake in the decision, all who see the decision-situation from a different perspective, in the process of decision-making, you not only enlist the different factions that those individuals represent but you also come closer to ensuring a richer decision, a balance consideration of all mitigating factors in the decision that you ultimately take.

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