By Roberta Baskin
During a previous life as a television investigative journalist, I reported on hundreds of cases of corporate misconduct. I suspect my stories often would leave viewers in despair, wondering what to do about it. I began to realize people wanted solutions to problems. This insight propelled the idea for a student-centered project focused on more uplifting and inspiring outcomes. By giving students the opportunity to showcase examples of positive and profitable solutions to the world’s biggest challenges, they themselves would become leaders of global change.
What is AIM2Flourish?
AIM2Flourish prepares business students to be leaders for global good. The initiative offers inspiring classroom learning and student interviews with innovative CEOs. Supported by their professors, students learn about positive and profitable business innovations, discover the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (also known as Global Goals) as the new North Star for business, and explore their own capacities to be Global Goals leaders.
We accomplish this through a professor-facilitated curriculum, the AIM2Flourish.com story platform, the annual Flourish Prizes celebration, and collaboration with our partners worldwide. AIM2Flourish is housed at the Fowler Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University.
Preparing Students to Lead Global Goals
When has the world ever come together and agreed on anything unanimously? It happened at the United Nations Summit on September 27, 2015. That day, 193 countries all voted to achieve the 17 Global Goals by 2030. They are, without exaggeration, the world’s “to do” list with a noble call—“Leave no one behind”—for all governments, businesses, and citizens to do their part.
Beyond the moral imperative to ensure a decent, dignified list for all people, the goals also represent an astonishing 12 trillion USD opportunity for business leaders. (See the Business Sustainable Development Commission report released at this year’s World Economic Forum.)
Students are eager to learn about and experience this kind of positive and profitable business leadership for themselves. They are well aware of the precariousness of our planet and they understand the challenges ahead. But they also see extraordinary opportunity to achieve the Global Goals using the power of business.
Collaborating for Success
AIM2Flourish has been a collaborative labor of love for responsible leadership and education. We launched our pilot in 2015 at the UN Global Compact (PRME) and GRLI’s “All Gathering Momentum” event with a handful of professors and students from management schools around the world. In 2016, dozens of professors started offering the AIM2Flourish assignment to their students, including 35 who have made AIM2Flourish a class requirement. Midway through 2016, AACSB International’s Dan LeClair gave us a marvelous boost with video interviews, calling the initiative “a beautiful thing.” We had hoped to publish 200 stories by the end of 2016 but instead ended the year with 422 published stories, thanks to our students, professors, and colleagues.
How AIM2Flourish Works
For professors, we provide dozens of resources, videos, sample syllabi, classroom exercises, and news items about the Global Goals. It’s been exciting to see the creative ways professors around the world customize AIM2Flourish assignments to meet their semester’s objectives and their students’ needs.
For students, the AIM2Flourish assignment sends them outside the classroom to interview a business leader about a positive and profitable business innovation and then share what they learned on AIM2Flourish.com. As part of their interview preparation, students learn to ask positive questions that shine a light on solutions and what’s going right, rather than focus on problems. This strengths-based approach is called “appreciative inquiry” and was founded at Case Western Reserve University.
Students submit their interviews on a secure area of the AIM2Flourish website for their professor to review. Once the professor is satisfied the student’s story has met all required criteria, the story gets a final review by one of our 30 volunteer Story Stewards. After publication, the stories are shared on social media and become part of classroom conversations around the world.
A wonderful example of an AIM2Flourish story comes from IPMI International Business School. It’s called “The Alchemy of Bio Degradable Plastic for a Greener World.” An Indonesian company, Tirta Marta, made plastic bags for supermarkets that, once discarded, would pile up in a landfill for a few hundred years. But the company recently switched to making bags from tapioca, bags that biodegrade in two weeks. They’re using fair trade standards and supporting the cassava farmers in a cooperative. The innovation is distinctly aligned with Global Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production.
AIM2Flourish’s Flourishing Outcomes
While AIM2Flourish was initially conceived as a way to showcase how business is a positive, powerful agent of change, it’s evolving into something more.
One IPMI student wrote about his experience with AIM2Flourish this way: “Our paradigms shifted toward a sustainable direction of conducting business where social innovation will form the nuclei of our business models.”
Many more students have reported that the experience of getting out of the classroom to conduct appreciative inquiry-style interviews with a business leader is transformational. They say it inspires a career trajectory with an expanded emphasis on social impact. Many students cultivate relationships with their new business mentors, some have received job offers, and, in at least one case, a company invited the student interviewer onto its advisory board.
We hoped the website would also become a place where impact investors would discover businesses to scale up, and that is starting to happen. Ted Levinson of Beneficial Returns decided to invest in the tapioca bags and wrote, “AIM2Flourish’s website and its global network of contributors capture and organize and summarize the best social enterprises—all in one place.”
From June 14 to 16, 2017, we will honor the 17 best innovations with the inaugural “Flourish Prizes” awarded at the Fourth Global Forum at Case Western Reserve University; one prize for each of the Global Goals. We also will bring together some of our business school colleagues to co-create a consortium around AIM2Flourish to support its future governance and development. We are not creating a movement, we are joining one. And I hope you’ll join us on this path of discovery and celebration!
Webster University in Athens has an excellent MBA program. For more information, please refer to www.webster.edu.gr