The role of Business Schools in the age of Purpose

January 12th 2020 - Edition #18

In the evolution of capitalism from shareholder value in the 80s and 90s, to a focus on stakeholder management in the 2000s, there are now clear signals that the decade of 2020 will be the age of corporate purpose. An age in which corporate strategies, resource allocation processes and the ability to attract and retain talent are increasingly shaped by the path towards purpose that each organization pursues.

Definitions of Organizational Purpose abound. In my conception, the search for purpose starts with the realization that each organization exists in an ecosystem larger than itself and that it needs to be a positive contributor to the vitality and sustainability of this ecosystem. The path to organizational purpose is fuelled by the individual search for purpose of employees, leaders, investors, clients and citizens, but also nurtures those personal journeys is a virtuous cycle, creating engagement and loyalty. Purpose is thus a powerful concept that serves as a unifying reference, well above the interests of the key stakeholders.

Why now the age of Purpose? The global awareness we have and the ability to easily communicate and connect with others is a key driver. But it is also fundamental the growing realization that our societal and environmental ecosystems are in danger and it is our collective responsibility to ensure that they thrive instead of collapse. This is what gives me confidence that Purpose is not a fad and its fulfilment needs to go much beyond the traditional business concepts of Vision & Mission. 

As Dean of Católica Lisbon School of Business & Economics, the brief reflection I would like to make here is about the purpose of a business school such as ours.

I am motivated in our search for purpose by three complementary ideas: Knowledge, Learning, Impact.

A Business School is first and foremost a Community of Knowledge. A place where knowledge is absorbed, discussed and further developed, leading to a deeper understanding of economic processes, organizational lives and individual behaviours. It is a place where uncomfortable questions are asked and a deeper understanding of the economic world is developed, including its interactions with the other facets of society – environmental, political, social. Because knowledge is vast and facts are easily available, a knowledge strategy needs to be able to codify and simplify our complex reality to make it understandable and actionable.

A Business School is also a place for Inspirational Learning, for shaping the minds and hearts of the current and future generation of entrepreneurs, managers and leaders. Equipping them with the ability to understand themselves and their corporate reality, to ask the right questions, to apply effective tools and processes, and realize their potential to be drivers of positive change in their organizations and society. Teaching should be illuminating, inspirational, theoretically sound and applicable to concrete issues.

But to realize its purpose, a Business School, beyond knowledge and learning, needs to focus on Impact. Business Schools have a systemic influence much bigger than their size. For example, the most influential ones, such as the INSEADs, Harvards and Stanfords, are one thousand times smaller in size than the largest corporations and yet they are capable of shaping hearts and minds. Business Schools are truly influential in society because they are key players in the business & economics ecosystem. Each of their students can potentially be a leader of thousands. Each of their Professors can potentially guide allocation of resources worth billions. A powerful knowledge insight can transform business practices and behaviours globally.

With oversized influence comes oversized responsibility. Business schools have the responsibility to develop knowledge that can become a positive instrument for the progress of society. The responsibility to train ethical and responsible leaders capable of making the best use of the resources and talent they have available. The responsibility to focus its knowledge assets and human talent on the issues that most trouble companies and society.

Católica-Lisbon School of Business & Economics will find its purpose on pursuing research, teaching and outreach initiatives that can powerfully contribute to the development and progress of our society. It will be a catalyst for new initiatives and a promoter of partnerships for impact aligned with the UNs sustainable development agenda. A Business School for Impact.

Filipe Santos
Dean of Católica Lisbon School of Business & Economics
Academic Director of the Center for Responsible Business and Leadership

The Center for Responsible Business & Leadership has the main purpose of contributing for Sustainability and Responsible Leadership to become part of the “way we do things in our planet”. Find out more here.

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