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Posted 2.13.07

Among many projects at The Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit (B·A·W·B) over the past year, perhaps none has been more important that the establishment, in partnership with the United Nations Global Compact (U.N.) and the Academy of Management (AoM), of the first Global Forum for business as an agent of world benefit: "Business as an Agent of World Benefit: Management Knowledge Leading Positive Change." As a result of the Global Forum, B·A·W·B is in the midst of exciting new projects which could truly transform the field of management into a place where business addresses societal problems while prospering financially in the process.

"We are going to continue to nurture the follow-up from the first Global Forum, especially the work with the U.N. and AoM to create a global set of principles for management education related to global corporate citizenship," said Cooperrider. "It will be a worldwide effort between management educators and management schools around the world and could result in a set of universal principles that relate to global corporate citizenship and leadership education."

Additionally, B·A·W·B will focus on other Forum-generated initiatives such as creating new teaching materials for management school classes and building a consortium where business leaders and management scholars can come together to co-create new models and products for sustainable business.

These initiatives serve as an extension of three powerful convictions guiding B·A·W·B:

  1. Every single global issue of our day is a business opportunity, a source of top line innovation and value, given the right mix of entrepreneurship, pragmatism, human aspiration, and new combinations of strengths and investments;
  2. Management is a matter of world affairs, whereby every day the billions of decisions we make in corporations worldwide collectively add up to shaping the future possibilities and prospects of our common future;
  3. It's time to aim higher as a field, where the ideal of sustainable value creation propels companies and management schools in an upward spiral in a race to the top, that is where doing good becomes an inexhaustible energy source providing the tools and inspiration companies need to become the leading-edge, top rated stars of their industries.

As B·A·W·B takes on these higher aims, Cooperrider and the team use the same large group multi-stakeholder summit method for which Case Western is well known -- the appreciative inquiry (AI) whole system dialogue and planning -- with companies in northeast Ohio wishing to launch their own design efforts in the arena of sustainable enterprise. One of those companies, Fairmount Minerals, held one of the most successful AI summits B·A·W·B ever helped to create in August 2005, bringing 300 of its employees together from all levels of the business with external stakeholders such as community leaders, NGOs, and customers for three full days of intensive prototyping of new sustainable products, processes, brand opportunities, and business models.

Much like the Global Forum, the energy, creativity, and commitment to take action was palpable. It was a wonderful example of the kind of lifelong, long-term innovation incubator B·A·W·B aspires to bring to the table. In this case, the learning partnership between Fairmount Minerals and the Weatherhead School started in 1991. Shortly after its company-wide sustainability summit and its participation in the Global Forum, Fairmount Minerals shared its vision of seeing the Center for B·A·W·B bring this kind of work to companies and students all over the world by providing an amazing catalyst: a major gift for establishing an endowment for this work.

Fairmount Minerals’ generous gift of $2.4 million is earmarked for a new Fairmount Minerals Chair in Social Entrepreneurship at the Weatherhead School as well as for seed funding to enhance the goals and programs of the Center for B·A·W·B. The B·A·W·B will now begin confidently laying out its agenda for the Center as an international pioneer in helping businesses realize the value proposition that every single global and social issue of our day is in fact a huge business opportunity.

With a focus on social entrepreneurship and sustainable value creation, the common focus for B·A·W·B is innovation. Much like the top design firm in the world, IDEO, B·A·W·B believes that innovation is the single most important ingredient in the sustainability revolution. It's the thread that infuses its research and the World Inquiry into transformative innovation; it's the thread that inspires its classrooms and teaching of future managers; and it's the signature it brings to its real-time work with companies searching for an IDEO-like equivalent in the arena of sustainability and social entrepreneurship.

"A top priority, therefore, is to build the next stages of the world inquiry, which was so successfully begun and led by Professor Ron Fry and Nadya Zhexembayeva over the past three years," said Cooperrider. "We also will be exploring and working toward -- in the spirit of surfacing the most important innovations -- the development of a global prize for business as an agent of world benefit that recognizes the business and society innovation which, in the previous year, has made the largest positive impact on humankind.

"The search for global solutions," he continues, "is part of our special need as a human family to accelerate our capacity for global learning and our shared ability to anticipate the future."

Another top priority will be follow-up on the Weatherhead School's work, through B·A·W·B, with the Aspen Institute and its Business and Society Program to develop teaching cases around social entrepreneurship and sustainability. Weatherhead is one of 11 management schools worldwide chosen to participate in the Aspen Institute's Teaching Innovation Project (TIP) which could lead to an institute for faculty to learn how to bring sustainability into every management subject area -- finance, operations, accounting, organization development, leadership and strategy, and information systems design.

B·A·W·B will also be a partner and supporter -- joining together with Rodrigo Loures, CEO of Nutrimental Foods and the head of the Federation of the Industries of Paraná State (FIEP) -- of the next major conference on business as an agent of world benefit in Curitiba, Brazil. A previous conference there featured "prosperity alliances" between business and society and attracted over 1000 people. This BAWB Brazil session promises to be exciting. At the same time the Center for B·A·W·B at the Weatherhead School is working on the development of a second global forum in 2008 which will focus on the potential theme "Managing as Design in an Era of Massive Change."

"It’s been said," says Cooperrider, "that the best way to understand something deeply is to try to change it. But we take this a step further: The best way to know something deeply is, through inquiry and imagination, to give birth to it, to innovate it, to co-create, and to design the future."

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