5th PRME FORUM in KL

ALL of us are familiar with recent corporate scandals, lapses in judgment by people in power, and other irresponsible boardroom behavior. These sorts of things can cause the collapse of companies, economic crises, and job losses in the millions. At this very moment authorities around the world are trying to prevent these occurrences through tougher regulations, more legislation, and stiffer penalties. At the same time, elite business schools are reexamining their responsibility for causing this mess—since many of the perpetrators are graduates of these Ivy League, and other prestigious, institutions.

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This gloomy scenario was the backdrop for the 5th PRIME Conference, held in Kuala Lumpur on 13 November 2014, where the Registrar General of Higher Educational Institutions in Malaysia, from the Ministry of Education, the YBhg Prof Dato’ Dr Asma Ismail, questioned the primary role of business schools. The Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) initiative is the first organised relationship between the United Nations and business schools, launched in 2007, with members from more than 500 business schools spanning more than 80 countries.

In the opening speech, she emphatically stated that the role of universities in general and business schools in particular is to shape the minds of the future, so that as leaders they will be relevant to industry and the nation. Indeed, the failings mentioned earlier result from poor stewardship by leaders lacking good character (or, in Arabic, “akhlaq” ).

Before building a University, one should first determine what kind of society he wants.

The Register General pointed out that all institutions of higher learning have a responsibility to build, or enhance, the character of tomorrow’s leaders. It is important to provide students with knowledge and expertise, and the ability to think critically, but this is not enough. Simply learning the principles of building or managing a business does not guarantee success.

Students must learn to be solution providers – to go into communities and connect with people, to understand what they need, then to use their skills and knowledge to develop solutions. She noted in particular her expectations for Business Schools. In order to make a difference they need to address the needs of the industry and the country—as solution providers.

Business Schools must forge linkages with industry in order to understand what they need to be relevant, and to learn from them. They are expected to generate new knowledge to help develop the innovative skills and competitive edge needed for the commercialisation of ideas, in order to strengthen the nation.

Too often institutions of higher learning merely promote their ideas to find out whether their proposed solutions actually work. But there is no nobility in this. Instead, society needs social educators.

Prof Dato’ Dr Asma explained that social development is like giving a community fish—that can only help the community for a short period, while the fish lasts. What is more important is creating sustainable change in the community, giving them fishing rods and teaching them how to use them through social engagement.

She noted that this requires students to listen to the people—to discover what they need—and then to harness what they learn at business schools to solve problems and to make solutions affordable, accessible and appropriate. This she termed Service Learning, a form of experiential learning which, she believes, will build character.

The common term “outreach” only tests the ideas one has developed. She insists that students should evaluate their ideas based on how well they fit into the community, as well—and be prepared to modify their ideas until solutions are found.

In so doing, business schools can create Balanced Excellence—found in an individual of noble character who excels in applying learned knowledge. Knowledge, after all, is infinite, and without humans applying it, the knowledge will be of little consequence. Balanced Excellence is the integration of akhlaq (character) and ilmu (knowledge).

Prof Dato’ Dr Asma maintained that the goal of every business school should be to engender Active Citizenry –the development of students who have Balanced Excellence in order to create wealth for the country, contribute to society, and ultimately make a positive impact on the nation.

Ultimately, she concluded, it is the heart that transforms. All knowledge and learning goes to naught if the heart is not transformed to take appropriate action. That is why we need to bring the SOUL back into education.

We applaud Prof Dato’ Asma’s speech, and the UN’s initiative in developing Principles for Responsible Management Education. At Putra Business School (PBS), through the spirit of Human Governance, we have taken steps to actualise these principles, not only in our programs but also in what we do—by observing adab as our code of behaviour.

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