Some Thoughts Based on a Brazilian Experience, by Yeda Swirski de Souza, Ph.d.

The ancient deity whose two faces look out in opposite directions, Janus, has long been a symbol for change and innovation. Janus represents beginnings and transitions, a glance back at the past with an eye toward the future, and the balance between identity and innovation. In a well-known article about innovation in the Harvard Business Review, Reilly and Tushman (2004) evoke Janus in a discussion of the imperative that managers observe a balance between exploration and exploitation and tackle new opportunities without abandoning existing capabilities. 

 

    Janus came to mind as I thought about the challenges facing Jesuit business schools. Is Janus sufficient to represent the variety of opportunities and constraints with which schools must cope? Does the balance between dualities--past and future, and identity and innovation--explain the hectic wave in which my students, colleagues, and I are caught up? Based upon my experiences as a professor, chair, and dean at a Jesuit business school in Brazil, I highlight here four topics that affect future planning and ongoing work: internationalization, entrepreneurship, social and environmental commitment, and ethics. I discuss each topic, pointing out its significance in terms of opportunities presented and constraints imposed. 

Internationalization

     Internationalization is no longer a choice but a necessity, even for business schools in Brazil. Business schools--and universities as well--have a new role to play as we face the challenges of leveraging local economies by fostering their talents to generate a knowledge- and creativity-based economy. The development of knowledge clusters to align with global value service and innovation chains requires educating people to belong to a talent pool. In Brazil, decision makers have been quite varied in their consciousness of and focus on the opportunities offered by the new economy; practices that promote intercultural education and impact research in a global setting have not yet been fully developed. 

     Brazil has come late to going global in both business and education. During the last several decades of the 20th century, Brazilian policy for science and technology bet on endogenous growth, so universities and research institutes fell behind with respect to international networking. Brazilian companies began to internationalize at the end of the 20th century. Focused on promoting international experiences for natural science, technology, and engineering students, the first high-impact Brazilian public policy for higher education was established in 2010. This program--Science without Borders--became a landmark for our country. 

     At our business school, internationalization has become both a strategy and a set of goals to be accomplished over the short term. We have sought international recognition and connection through the attainment of accreditation standards, improved student and faculty exchange opportunities, creation of an internal policy recommending international liaisons for all research projects, the establishment of dual degree programs, and increasing participation in international networks. While these initiatives have shown promising outcomes, we are just taking our first steps to opening new avenues to international connections. New stages will be forthcoming, and the biggest challenge will be to maintain a disciplined focus as we encounter the inevitable successes and failures.  

Entrepreneurship

     Business schools have been recognized as privileged actors within universities in promoting entrepreneurship.  Aligned with technological and scientific areas, the expertise in responding to market and societal needs, intrinsic to our core disciplines, has placed the business school at the forefront in entrepreneurship promotion. Ideally, entrepreneurship should be a challenge for the entire university, especially in the context of an emerging economy wherein catch-up strategies are needed to overcome poverty and to contribute to the improvement of the economy, society, and institutions.  Paradoxically, most Brazilian universities seem to continue to follow a model inspired by a European tradition: the Humboldt model of the university, which arose in early 19th-century Germany.  According to this model, the university mission should be to provide instruction and to conduct research.  However, it disregards a commitment to education that is useful, practical,  and oriented toward professional training and fails to recognize that universities can be  actively engaged in economic growth and other social concerns (Goldstein, 2010).

     Universities in Brazil were established relatively recently.  In the 17th century, the Portuguese kingdom denied the Jesuits permission to establish a university in its colony.  Jesuit college alumni were forced to go to Europe, specifically to Coimbra, to continue higher education.  It was not until the 19th century, upon the arrival in Brazil of the royal family and the Portuguese aristocracy in their escape from the Napoleonic invasion, that higher education institutions were first established (Fávero, 2006). As noted above, colleges and universities followed European tradition with the mission of providing instruction and conducting research.  

     Very recently, some community universities in Brazil have begun to establish practices in accordance with a “triple helix model” that interweaves academia, industry,  and government within a spiral pattern of linkages to advance economic development through the strategy of technological innovation.  It means breaking down traditional organizational, cultural, and normative barriers that in the past have separated these isolated spheres to the detriment of economic competitiveness and technological progress. For the university setting, it “envisions an academic structure and function that is revised through the realignment of economic development with research and teaching as academic missions” (Etzkowitz et al. 2000, p. 314). 

     With governance inspired by the “triple helix model,” the connection between the University (UNISINOS) and the Tech-Park (TECNOSINOS) creates an entrepreneurial spirit within the university and the business school. Strategically, there is a clear understanding that this connection can leverage and transform existing curricula and learning practices.

However, the implementation of new practices and full faculty adoption of an entrepreneurial attitude has not gone smoothly.  There are constraints related not only to entrenched traditional mindsets,  but also to external assessments that value and reward academic publication over practical and technical contributions. 

Social & Environmental Commitment

     As evidence of climate change and seemingly intractable poverty continues to mount, social and  environmental commitment demands the attention of business and management on a global scale. Business schools face criticism of their extant for economic, business, and management models that disregard social and environmental impacts.  For example, Yunus and Weber (2007) contribute to the discussion about the need for a paradigm shift in economic logic. They refute the idea that a company’s purpose should rest solely upon financial gain and emphasize that the current economic system--in which the principal goal is maximizing profits and money is the only source of motivation, satisfaction, and happiness--is likely at the root of many social ills, such as poverty and environmental destruction (Yunus & Weber, 2007). The idea that social value creation should be embedded at the core of any enterprise is gaining momentum. 

In an emerging country such as Brazil, social and environmental commitment has tremendous relevance. Although industrialization and urbanization have grown rapidly in the last few decades, Brazilian society faces marked inequalities in terms of wealth, access to healthcare, education, communication, mobility, and quality of life. In this context, it is very easy to advocate for new models in business and management; for example, social entrepreneurship and innovation are a theme of great interest among faculty and students.                                 

     At UNISINOS, in addition to the traditional social action work, prioritized by the university for decades because of its Jesuit values and commitment to social action, new practices are being developed. At the business school, a new center with the mission to provide teaching, action-research, social action, new practices are being developed. At the business school, a new center with the mission to provide teaching, action-research, and consulting on social entrepreneurship and innovation has been created to take advantage of the many opportunities and to meet the various demands associated with this theme. In Brazil, there are several different public and private initiatives related to social entrepreneurship, corporate social responsibility, and solidarity economies; in our center’s case, the challenge is to create strategies and practices that truly add value and differentiate themselves from existing practices.  I believe that the best the center can do is to stimulate social entrepreneurship based on best business and management practices as way to leverage social enterprises.  Currently, the center has been working closely with the Tech-Park connected to the university with strategy of gathering technological and managerial expertise to stimulate tech-based business plans for social entrepreneurship.

Ethics

     The idea that teaching theories at business schools must be revised applies not only to social and environmental issues, but also to ethics. In a manuscript drafted by Sumantra Goshal before his unexpected death, he argued that business schools should revamp much of their curricula (Goshal, 2005).  The inspiration for Goshal’s article was the Enron scandal that came to light in October 2001 and ultimately led to the bankruptcy of Enron, an American energy company based in Houston, Texas, and the dissolution of Arthur Andersen, which was one of the five largest audit and accountancy partnerships in the world. Goshal used this case to illustrate his larger point: that business schools have been propagating amoral theories and have actively freed their students from any sense of moral responsibility. 

   If this is true, then it is contrary to the way business schools see themselves. Business schools are, in general, mission-driven institutions where the commitment to values is at the core of what a school wishes to promote. If we look to business schools’ missions, most of them embrace values and suggest an ethics that should guide decisions by faculty, students, and alumni. Recently, when we gathered faculty to discuss strategic planning at UNISINOS, the commitment to Jesuit values was once again highlighted as essential to our identity as a business school.

       There is obviously a great disconnect and disparity between Goshal’s observations about the amorality of business theories, on the one hand,  and most business schools’ commitment to mission and intrinsic ethics, on the other. Perhaps Goshal is correct, and we actually need to revise theories, texts, case studies, and whatever has been taught at business schools. Such an effort might result in transforming mission statements from aspirations into tangible contributions to society.

Aztec Calendar

     I began by asking if the image of Janus sufficiently expresses the complexity of the challenges to which business schools must respond. I’ve reviewed four different dimensions (internationalization, entrepreneurship, social and environmental commitment, and ethics), and there many others that require consideration, such as business schools’ economic sustainability, the need for trans-disciplinary studies, technology impacts, etc.

     Although the Janus metaphor is insightful, I prefer the Aztec calendar as a more suitable metaphor to stimulate our imaginations and inform our thinking about the complexity of the challenges business schools face. Recently, I had the wonderful chance to visit the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico with my Global Social Benefit Network colleagues; I was astonished by the impressive presence and beauty of the Aztec Stone Calendar. Maybe some inspiration can be drawn from the Aztecs’ concern with keeping all things in balance, wherein divinity, nature, and humanity are parts of a cohesive whole.

 

 

 

 

References

Fávero, M. de A. (2006). A Universidade no Brasil: das origens à Reforma Universitária de 1968 University in Brazil: from its origins to university reform–1968. Educar, 28, pp. 17–36. 

Goldstein, H. A. (2010). The “entrepreneurial turn” and regional economic development mission of universities. The Annals of  Regional  Science,  44 (1), pp. 83–109. 

Goshal, S. (2005). Bad Management Theories Are Destroying Good Management Practices. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 4 (1), pp. 75–91.

Etzkowitz H, Webster AC, Terra BRC (2000). The future of the university and the university of the future: evolution of ivory tower to entrepreneurial paradigm. Research Policy 29(2), pp. 313–330.

Reilly, C; Tushman, M. (2004). The Ambidextrous Organization. Harvard Business Review, April, pp. 74-81.

Yunus, Muhammad; Weber, Karl. (2007). Creating a  world without poverty. New York Best Sellers.

“Unnamed Pre-Colombian Mexica artists of the 15th century. Keepscases modified it into . - 15th century Aztec “Sun Stone” sculpture, made into a diagram by the uploader.” Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aztec_calendar#/media/File:Aztec_calendar.svg