Business 101: AIM2Flourish

Business 101: AIM2Flourish
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Parachuting into my first Academy of Management conference in Anaheim, California last month was exhilarating; much like the first time I blasted off from Space Mountain across the street at Disneyland. That famous thrill ride is billed as a journey through the stars. So was the AOM conference... a gathering of close to 10,000 academics and professional luminaries from the galaxy of scholarly management. The experience reinforced my conviction that the world's management educators are key change agents to prepare business leaders who can and will solve humanity's greatest challenges.

Once on the ground, I was amazed to discover how many conference goers already knew each other. Many had been reconnecting for years, even for decades. I felt I had landed amidst multiple family reunions. I don't think I met even one first-timer. And we all seemed to be drawn by the overarching theme of the conference - Making Organizations Meaningful.

This concept holds deep meaning for me and reflects my current work at Case Western Reserve University's Fowler Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit. Following decades as an investigative reporter exposing corporate misconduct, I've taken a radical turn. Associated with the Weatherhead School of Management at CWRU, I've been exploring how to research, discover, amplify, and celebrate corporate innovations aligned with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) unanimously approved by the United Nations in September 2015.

These 17 Global Goals are the world's "To Do" list to achieve by 2030. They encompass everything from addressing poverty, to climate action, to quality education for all, to peace and justice. The goals are a beautiful framework to guide the next generation of business leaders. Lise Kingo, UN Global Compact Executive Director, estimates these challenges to be worth trillions of dollars in profits for those companies willing to embrace them. She says, "We must turn the global goals into business action and impacts in markets around the world."

The initiative I direct is called AIM2Flourish, and it was an honor to present this work on the AOM panel called "Purpose in Action: Paradigm Shift in Management Education for a Better World." Today's business students live in a pluralistic stakeholder world of interdependent social, economic, and environmental challenges. These crises are real and urgent, but management textbooks lag behind with a shareholder value focus. Fortunately, our young millennials have a keen desire to fix the mess they've inherited. They see a future in companies that do good, and do well and AIM2Flourish helps them discover it. And many now echo our AIM2Flourish credo: "We believe confronting the world's greatest challenges can be profitable and that business is the powerful force that can create a flourishing world for all."

AIM2Flourish catalyzes business innovation by discovering, sharing, and celebrating inspiring stories of businesses that do good and do well. We are preparing the next generation of business leaders to build a better world with the only higher-education experiential learning curriculum to teach the UN SDGs, along with a global story-sharing platform. Business school professors around the world use our Professor Resources to teach the UN's Sustainable Development Goals to our next generation of business leaders. Our curriculum includes how to conduct an "Appreciative Inquiry"; a strength-based interviewing technique that can reveal what inspired company presidents and corporate CEOs to create innovations with social impact. Many students tell us that the experience of researching innovations and connecting with their innovators through "Appreciative Inquiry" interviewing shifts their career goals to tackle real-world problems.

Today, professors and students in some 50 countries participate on our platform. Together they've already published some 200 examples of diverse and inspiring business innovation stories -- most of which can't be found in business publications or anywhere else.

For instance, we've learned -
  • Plastic grocery bags in Indonesia made from tapioca biodegrade in just two weeks and support the country's cassava farmers in a cooperative.
  • Portable solar water filtration systems in Africa can generate 800 liters of fresh water in rugged areas of the continent.
  • A simple "Lucky Iron Fish" added to rice pots in Cambodia is an effective way to fight iron deficiency among one-quarter of the population.
  • A Brazilian company that respects rainforest resources can produce quality cosmetics in harmony with n

At the end of 2016, all of the stories gathered globally and published on will be considered for one of the 17 Flourish Prizes matched to each of the 17 UN SDGs. We'll celebrate the extraordinary best-of-the-best at the Fourth Global Forum on June 14-16, 2017 at CWRU in Cleveland, Ohio.

The dozens of distinguished professors participating in AIM2Flourish share a common passion: educating the next generation of business leaders on ways to practice business as a force for good. The community of professors that has grown up around AIM2Flourish is sharing syllabi, best practices, and networking with each other around particular interests. This relatively new initiative has had an organic flow to it and has grown faster than any of us would have expected.

In addition to our home Case Western Reserve University's Fowler Center, we are grateful for our co-sponsor UN Global Compact PRME, the UN's network of management-related academic institutions, business schools, and universities. And recently, AACSB International (the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) the accreditation organization for 1,450 management schools, endorsed AIM2Flourish and posted a "What is AIM2Flourish?" video interview to explain and support our mission. AACSB SVP Dan LeClair joined the AOM panel to talk about his business education network's mission and referred to AIM2Flourish as an example of "Making Organizations Meaningful."

The recent Academy of Management conference convinced me that this passion for transforming how management education is taught is universal and inevitable. It's happening through these educators I met, sharing, networking, and refreshing their mindset about teaching. The experience confirmed my hope that the next generation of business leaders and managers will know how to tackle the world's great challenges and, in turn, will create good business opportunities in the process.

I'm already looking forward to next year's Academy of Management conference in Atlanta. I'll return, not as a newcomer, but as a member of this dedicated extended family, eager to share more stories, more progress, and more hope for a better future.

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