Student help co-create an MBA for the planet

A growing number of companies are increasing their commitment to sustainability – particularly those working with commodities, chemicals, consumer products, retailing and industrial goods and machinery. A university in Exeter, United Kingdom, has incorporated sustainability studies in its MBA programme – providing a transformative, reflective, and issue-based learning curriculum. Working closely with a well-known environmental organization, and through a participative design process with the first intake conceived as a co-creating ‘innovation cohort’,  the MBA highlights global environmental, social and economic challenges that current leaders face, and actively supports participants to identify their own contribution, be it in business or social enterprises.

The University of Exeter Business School’s One Planet MBA recognizes that businesses need to actively respond to the fact that the world’s resources are finite, which in turn creates substantial political, environmental and economic risks that we ignore at our peril.

Exeter’s One Planet MBA is a partnership with WWF International, who provide significant input to the MBA program, opportunities for projects – as well as a strong network of companies associated with WWF organisations around the world.

The course is taught across multiple stages, beginning with the changing business environment, which examines the current challenges facing leaders. Participating students are initially challenged with deceptively difficult questions, such as why we need action, or why businesses need to change. Such questions are approached from three perspectives: that of the world, within the organisation, and finally that of the individual. However,  the One Planet MBA is careful not to neglect hard business fundamentals, where (for example) students study economics for a sustainable world, responsible investment, managing resources and operations, marketing and customer engagement and leadership development. Further, a great deal of emphasis is placed on strategy development, which is taught within the framework of sustainability.

If leaders can’t communicate, they simply can’t implement their plans for change. Leadership communication is therefore an another priority in the program, presented in tandem with integration techniques, where students work at examining business from a strategic perspective without losing their focus on sustainability. Participants are challenged to ask questions about global strategic analysis and management, the human factor in sustainable organisations, and managing strategic and responsible innovation.

Students are also encouraged to specialize in a management area of their own choosing. For example, they have the option to expand their entrepreneurial expertise, explore sustainable finance or develop their leadership skills.

The final stage involves students tackling a major consultancy or research project, while working with an external organization – presenting an opportunity for them to integrate their skills in an area that is relevant to their career paths.

Partnership with WWF

The University of Exeter has collaborated with WWF on sustainability training for business leaders since 2007, when the University began accrediting WWF’s One Planet Leaders programme for international executives. The partnership with WWF offers useful benefits when studying for an MBA, helping ensure that the programme content is focused, relevant and informed by global challenges. WWF works closely with many large corporations around the world, including the Coca-Cola Company, HSBC, IKEA, Lafarge, Marks & Spencer, Nokia and SABMiller. Exeter’s One Planet MBA students become part of a global network of like-minded business leaders and benefit directly from WWF’s resources and relationships.

Filed in: Accompanying leaders in their transformation, Issue-centered learning, Reflective practice and fieldwork, Transformative Learning
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