This compact 7 + 3 day learning event will try to make some sense for the students of the natural tensions that exist between the three main groups or forces that constitute the focus of our assignment: (1) Sustainable Development, (2) Business and (3) Society. This will be important because as young professionals whose stated intention is to develop careers in the business sector, if we manage to get this right it will help them to have a serene understanding of the issues and values of these three often-competing communities, at a time when no one really has found the recipe that will at once guarantee the well-being of society and the planet, and at the same time create ample space for the best contributions from the high-energy, highly creative forces of the entrepreneurial sector, without which sustainable development is never going to happen.
Let’s break our challenge down quickly into its three main constituent parts:
1. Sustainable Development:
My strongest hope is that this course will serve not only to familiarize our class with the broad lines of this fascinating topic , but also and more importantly to whet their curiosity about better understanding the complicated, complex but so important nexus of issues that constitute “sustainable development”. And through the readings, presentations ,discussions, and written assignments get a better feel for the past, present and possible future of these conflicting issues and trends. Already quite a challenge, but there is more to it than that.
Incidentally, if we manage to make our students genuinely curious about this end of the topics, it suggests to me that once they have walked out of the last class, they will continue to educate themselves on it in the future, and hopefully in time arrive at a far more developed understanding than we could hope to give them in the course of a couple of hot summer days in a classroom in Paris.
And beyond this that they become actively curious about it will be important since the entire concept is and will continue to be in rapid evolution over brutally the full careers of everyone in that classroom. .So might as well get started now.
2. The Business sector:
I want our team to develop a feel for the tensions that more or less naturally exist between the business community and the sustainability issues – natural enough if we bear in mind that they are operating from two very different and often conflicting agendas, value sets and motivations.
At first glance, given these fundamental conflicts this may look like at best a zero-sum game — thus what the business community gains will always be at the cost of the rest of society. Or vice versa. Now this is of course a recipe for a very grim world, and inevitably one that can never be sustainable since sustainability requires deep collaboration. But there is potential worse.
Given the nature of the sustainability equations, and the fact that we really are starting to put huge pressures on many aspects of our collective existence and well-being, our human and environmental patrimony, this in fact could very well develop into a decreasing-sum game — meaning that the proverbial pie to be divided is not constant but steadily decreasing. In point of fact given present trends this is a more likely explanation of what is going on.
How do we find ways to concatenate the entrepreneurial sector with the special and very different environment of a sustainable society?
Which brings us to the third pillar of this seminar, namely the role of “society” as a whole in living with and hopefully better managing this tensions. When we say society we mean not only government, which clearly has a vital role to managing the transition from the old unconstrained universe to the much tighter one in which we currently area having to learn how to operate. This is of course critical, but at the end of the day behind government are people and voters, and if we bear in mind that in 21st century democracies the people have a much more active, at time determinant role to play. And linking all that are the media, old and new.
In conclusion, I hope that the members of this class will come out of this intensive course with the beginning of an understanding of the issues and the tensions, that they will realize that these potential conflicts are legitimate in many if not all ways, and that in point of fact the state of our solid knowledge in much of this is still in a pretty early stage.
There is a lot of room for creativity and communications for those in the business world who have to face this new environment. And if we give our students even the beginning of a base for this, well that would be a few days well spent.
The approach that we intend to take is pretty well laid out on the Dashboard and the several other tools and course that we have put together to frame the work of the students (see the Tools section on the menu for more on this.). The process is collaborative, and the role of the professor in this case is not so much to be a mine of unshakable wisdom and opinion, but rather to serve the group, the learning process, as a scout, colleague, moderator and coach.
We will know more about how these works out on the evening of the 9th, and even more one month hence when the final papers are all in, the reading and grading is underway. At that point I will ask each of you to write up on a single page your views about the way we have gone about this together. But we can now leave that for another day and today get started in our immediate challenge.