Leveraging education today to develop the responsible leaders of tomorrow

Assessing the UN-supported Principles for Responsible Management Education’s first ten years of impact

By Brooke Robbins

Since the turn of the century, public attitudes toward the responsibility of corporations to society have begun to shift. This gradual transformation in the way many individuals think about corporate accountability has raised questions about the role that companies should play in addressing their impact on issues of human rights, labor, and the environment.

In 2000, the United Nations launched the Global Compact, an initiative created to encourage businesses around the world to adopt socially responsible and sustainable policies. This initiative was a laudable first step in engaging corporations with UN values and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but its academic stakeholders quickly realized that it did not, on its own, address the root of the problem.

Jonas Haertle, Head of PRME. Photo Credit: Joel Sheakoski

In order to transform businesses into a force for social good — a key motivator of the UN Global Compact — the initiative would also need to address the mindsets of those who run them. How do these leaders think, and what do they prioritize?

This key insight about the importance of corporate leaders’ engagement with issues of sustainability and ethics led to the development of new idea: the creation of a principle-based global engagement platform for academic institutions — the breeding places, so to speak, of present and future business leaders.

Providing a framework through which these institutions could engage students with values of social responsibility, sustainability and ethics, would set the foundation for a more responsible, sustainable and ethical corporate future.

The Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) were developed by an international task force of sixty deans, university presidents, and representatives of leading business schools and academic institutions. Formally introduced by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the 2007 UN Global Compact Leaders Summit in Geneva, this year marks the initiative’s ten-year anniversary — and its impact to date has been nothing short of spectacular.

What began as a set of Six Principles has since evolved into the largest organized relationship between the UN and business schools, with a global network that includes more than 660 business and management-related institutions, spanning 83 countries and reaching over 20 million students worldwide.

Participants at the 2017 PRME Global Forum. Photo Credit: Joel Sheakoski

Indeed, its impact expands in proportion to its growth: in addition to its partnerships with higher education institutions, PRME has also recognized and established multiple regional chapters, which serve to address concerns specific to local contexts, as well as issue-area working groups, which allow faculty, industry experts, business leaders and students around the world to collaborate on specific issues, such as poverty or gender equality.

And PRME does not stop there. Since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by the international community in 2015, PRME has served as a bridge for management institutions to become advocates of this agenda, with many PRME signatories serving as early adopters of the 17 Global Goals presented therein.

In fact, these goals — which cover issues from the eradication of poverty, to climate change, to gender inequality and empowerment — now form the basis of PRME’s vision: to realize the Sustainable Development Goals through responsible management education.

In honor of its ten-year anniversary, PRME will host a Global Forum in New York this week. The Forum will provide a collaborative and action-oriented space to look back on PRME’s first decade of impact, to highlight the relevance of the SDGs for management education, and to lay the groundwork for the next decade of impact.

Looking forward, the Six Principles set forth by the PRME will likely continue to provide a foundation for transformation in business education, research, and thought leadership, and ultimately help bridge the divide between corporate policies and UN values.