Working towards a better tomorrow

Monash Business School does more than just teach its students the rules of business, finance and economics. It aims to produce good citizens – business leaders who make a difference to the world.

Michaela Rankin, Professor of Accounting and Deputy Dean (International) at Monash Business School says the School is committed to meeting its responsibilities as a signatory of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The Sustainable Development Goals set out to tackle a whole range of issues, from gender inequality to climate change. The unifying thread throughout the 17 goals and their 169 targets is the commitment to ending poverty, noted as the greatest global challenge and an “indispensable requirement for sustainable development”.

The goals below are part of Monash University’s broader education agenda.

“Sustainability is one of the primary research focuses of the Business School, and researchers have engaged in a broad range of projects from an economics and business perspective,” Professor Rankin says.

“Projects have included poverty reduction in India, building resilience in agri-food systems in Asia through sustainable and equitable practices, and the measurement of social values through the development of the Assessment of Quality of Life Instrument.”

The Business School also actively engages with business to bring a focus to the goals. “We have a strategic partnership with the Future Business Council, through which the School engages with the Council’s corporate members with a strong interest in sustainability, innovation and ethical business models. This partnership has led to a number of public forums and events, including exploring directors’ fiduciary duties with respect to climate change.”

The Sustainable Development Goals are also integrated through the education programs of Monash Business School as a result of the School’s commitment to the UN Principles of Responsible Management Education. Students address a number of issues including Prosperity, Poverty and Sustainability in a Globalised World; Accounting for Sustainability; Cross-cultural Management Communication and Sustainability Regulation for Business.

“The School sees this as one of its most important activities,” she says. “The role of business schools, is to develop the next generation of leaders. We think it is essential that tomorrow’s leaders understand the significant challenges and opportunities presented by sustainability and the Sustainable Development Goals, not only for governments, but for business. We want to ensure our graduates are equipped with the knowledge and expertise to appreciate the role government and business has to play in addressing these challenges.”

She says the UN Principles of Responsible Management Education (PRME) are about transforming management education, research and thought leadership globally.

This is done by working through the PRME framework, developing learning communities and promoting awareness about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

“The mission of the school is to engage in high quality research and education to have a positive impact on a changing world. This statement, and our values that underpin it is entirely aligned with the goals of UN PRME,” she says.

The aim is to ensure these are not just high-level goals.

“We like to use real world problems and activities in teaching. For instance, in our Accounting for Sustainability subject, students evaluated the tension faced by the board of Transfield Services from the perspective of financial performance and the moral or governance issues the company faced in being contracted to run offshore detention centres.” Students are shown how to implement these goals when they enter the business world.

“We provide students with a range of ‘real world’ experiences where they can test this through their degree: via sustainable leadership programs where they work on a real world business case, to internships and students engaging in community projects.”

As an example Professor Rankin cites students’ engagement with the Oakleigh Legal Service, where teams of law and finance students provide finance and legal advice.

“It’s then only a small step to continuing this engagement while in the business world,” she says.

Engaging students in responsible management and creating awareness of the Sustainable Development Goals also occurs outside the classroom. One example is the School’s Take One Step online engagement platform where students are invited to engage in a program aimed at inspiring sustainability leadership and action.

“It is an interactive platform, akin to social networking, that challenges students to take action to live in a more sustainable manner,” she says. “Whatever actions are chosen, every small step makes a big difference in a world that needs positive change. Students’ actions ranged from adopting a vegetarian diet, selecting sustainable purchasing options, using a reusable rather than a disposable coffee cup, using sustainable transport or switching to an ethical bank.”

Professor Rankin believes a number of businesses are leading the way, implementing these goals and values in their strategies and supply chains.

“Managing supply chain is a key issue that has been embraced by a number of firms, including Intel, which aims to improve diversity in its supply chain by investing in diverse entrepreneurs and supporting gender equality via digital Literacy Training for women in Kenya; Callebaut, which has committed to have 100% sustainable ingredients in all of their products, and to eradicate child labour from their supply chain. Google has committed to help 20 million SMEs in India establish an online presence to increase their revenues.”

Yet according to Professor Rankin these businesses are the exceptions. Overall, she feels businesses are not doing enough to address important global issues.

“I would argue that while many businesses might see these issues as peripheral, they are in fact  not.  For example, management of supply chain to identify working conditions and human rights practices should be part of the business risk management strategy. Studies have shown that diversity across the workforce will only benefit the business.”

The next generation of business leaders could play an important role in this change.

“Change in business happens not just from the culture at the top of the organisation, but from the staff and middle management engaging with these important issues,” she says. “

Both is needed to effect change, so having a body of graduates moving into a business who are able to see and understand the implications for the business in addressing the Sustainable Development Goals will mean change can be driven across the organisation, and the workforce containing these graduates will already be sold on the benefits.

“A clear understanding of the Sustainable Development Goals and what they mean for business is a first step, as well as some research on the benefits that can be gained not just by society but by the business, and their stakeholders by making even small changes that align with the Goals would be beneficial.”

Business leaders need to understand the business case and responsibilities around Sustainable Development Goals.

“Next, businesses could define what they see as their priorities, which would include mapping the value chain of the business to identify where their operations might engage with the Sustainable Development Goal agenda, identifying indicators of performance, and defining their priorities,” Professor Rankin says. “Setting goals would be next, over the short, medium and longer term. It is essential that the Sustainable Development Goals are embedded across the business strategy and operations, not just as a ‘side issue’ if business is planning to effect any change.

“Finally it is important to measure, report and communicate what it is doing to key stakeholders, both internally and externally. The UN Global Compact is one organisation behind a guide for business.”

The aim is to have students entering the workforce with Sustainable Development Goals being part of ‘business as usual’. The Monash Business School’s education offerings are structured around that.

“We strive to be a leader in responsible management education both in Australia and globally, and we are working hard to collaborate with other institutions to make this happen.”


Business First is a peer-to-peer magazine: written by CEOs and other high level executives, with interviews with some of the country’s best leaders.

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