President's Blog

Idea Power: Business, Academia and the Sustainable Development Goals

I returned last night from the United Nations-sponsored Global Forum for Responsible Management Education (which I had the honor to MC) inspired and optimistic about the future.  When we wrote the Principles for Responsible Management Education in 2007, higher education institutions played little if no role in shaping the global development agenda.  Eight years later, more than 600 schools of business and related disciplines have endorsed the principles, including Mason’s very own School of Business (it was great to have Dean Nutter among the participants in the Forum!). A great deal of work is being done to ensure that the future business leaders we educate are committed to creating sustainable, inclusive value. And business schools are now at the proverbial global table, helping shape the next global development agenda.

The first, and so far only time the world agreed on a global development agenda was 2000, when the so called Millennium Development Goals were adopted by the United Nations. The MDGs have proven that a global consensus around a specific development agenda can indeed galvanize action and bring multiple actors together.

In September of this year, the United Nations is scheduled to adopt a new agenda under the rubric of Sustainable Development Goals, the draft of which is already available. This time, both business, through the UN Global Compact, and academia, through PRME, have been fully involved. That’s real progress.

During the Forum, we had the chance to honor Georg Kell, founding director of the Global Compact and the UN sponsor who helped us bring the Principles of Responsible Management Education to life.  His commitment to the Global Compact vision for 15 years has been instrumental in fueling the movement of global corporate citizenship and engaging many of the greatest companies in the world. Vielen Dank, Georg!

During his farewell speech, Georg reminded us of the power of ideas to drive progress in the world. In 1999, the Global Compact was nothing but an idea that Kofi Annan floated in Davos. The Principles of Responsible Management Education too were just an idea in 2007.  Well articulated ideas, when owned by a committed group, can be powerful drivers of change.

On my way back I reflected on the role that Mason can play in advancing the Sustainable Development Goals. As a university that is committed to having real impact in the world, I look forward to working with the faculty in finding meaningful ways in which we can advance some of the most pressing challenges of our day.