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Corporate Strategy Graduates in business

urrent global challenges seem daunt- ing – and the pressures on individual employees too many and stifling to allow for any meaningful impact on issues of sustainability and business. In 1997 we launched the MSc in Responsibility and Business Practice to address issues of sustainability and social jus- tice in business, adopting an action research approach. We specifically invited people who wished to be explorers and pioneers to join us. And they did, in significant numbers, creating a community that, 15 years later, supports and encourages its members to take on the chal- lenges of living courageously in extraordinary times. There is a network of activists, both evi- dent and unseen, working in all sorts of places. They are managers, consultants and concerned citizens, they are in commercial, non-profit, public and intergovernmental organisations and in civil society who want to contribute to the development of a sustainable world and to sustainable policies and practices. We originally envisaged course participants as those charged with sustainability and social responsibility in business organisations, but in the event were delighted to work with a more diverse group of participants. They came from a wide range of job areas and organisa- tions, including large and small companies, consultancies, the public sector and non-gov- ernmental organisations. Some people already had professional remits that encompassed sus- tainability or corporate social responsibility. Others wanted to move their professional lives further in these directions. Many saw themselves as change agents in some way and wanted to develop these skills further. They ranged in age from 25 to 60. People came from many parts of the world in addition to the UK: from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Kosovo, Lesotho, Lithuania, Malaysia, New Zealand, Nigeria, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Thailand, the Netherlands, the US and Vietnam. Our main interest has been in how people take on leadership for sustainability. What gives people the sense of urgency, the resourc- es, the awareness, the approach and the crafts of practice to take action of some kind in the service of a more environmentally sustainable and socially just world? We see such leader- ship as necessarily going beyond conventional notions, because it needs to be able to step outside and challenge current formulations of society and business, and because sufficiently robust change means questioning the ground we stand on. The course had action research

C 20 | Sustainable Business | January/February 2012 Activists

Fifteen years ago, a new MSc brought together a community of pioneers to address issues of sustainability and social justice in business. Judi Marshall explains how the graduates – and their different approaches – have had an effect on organisations

as a fundamental organising principle – with cycles of action and reflection echoed both in the overall degree format and within each workshop. This pattern was communicated experientially to participants. We drew on our background in the theory and practice of action research because we believed it could

“Our main interest has been in how people take on leadership for sustainability. What gives people the sense of urgency”

give both a base of literature and a range of practices and ‘tools’ which would help partici- pants move between what they learned during workshops and what they did in their work and lives. It was also an intellectual base for the pedagogical approach of the course, which sought to work with participants as co-learn- ers and autonomous creators of their own

inquiries, rather than as supplicant students to whom we were imparting received knowl- edge and ready-made answers. We wanted to indicate that there are no simple solutions to the dilemmas posed by trying to integrate ecology, sustainability and social justice with successful business practice, and to invite participants to become active explorers and pioneers in this field.

The individual stories of the graduates high- light the different approaches which can have an effect on organisations. They show the important micro-practices of taking leader- ship for sustainability, alongside the broader strategies that people used. Each story is uniquely tailored to its context, and the com- mon threads of adopting some form of action research as an approach to leadership are also evident. Helen Goulden, for instance, focuses on small acts of resistance to her organisa- tion’s denial of its connection to issues of sustainability.

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