It’s time for university students to forget the outdated profit-driven nature of business if the world is to have a sustainable future, according to a leading researcher at the University of Sydney Business School.
Associate Professor Dr Ranjit Voola said the popular view that business is all about maximising shareholder value must change to consider social issues.
“Through their teaching, research and engagement, universities have a huge role to play when it comes to changing business and community perceptions,” Dr Voola said.
Dr Voola developed a postgraduate course called Poverty Alleviation and Profitability which was designed to tackle this new way of thinking.
Dr Voola’s approach to business follow the publication of guidelines for tertiary institutions wishing to help implement the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
The guidelines were published by the United Nations linked Sustainable Development Solutions Network which describes the UN goals, backed by member nations two years ago, as “one of the most ambitious and important global agreements in recent history”.
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aim to end poverty, encourage economic prosperity and ensure social inclusion, environmental sustainability, peace and good governance for all countries and all people by 2030.
“The SDGs cover a wide range of complex social, economic, and environmental challenges and addressing them will require transformations in how societies and economies function and how we interact with our planet,” the guidelines said.
“Education, research, innovation and leadership will be essential in helping society address these challenges.”
The document also said that universities have a critical role to play in the achievement of the SDGs because of their “broad remit around the creation and dissemination of knowledge and their unique position within society”.
The guidelines singled out Dr Voola’s poverty alleviation and profitability course as an example of the kind of program that universities worldwide ought to consider.
“There are 4 billion people who live on less than $5 a day but only companies that rethink their business models from the traditional ‘low volume and high margins’ to ‘low margins and high volume’, will be able to address social issues ethically, as well as make profits,” Dr Voola said.
“The future belongs to the companies that rethink their single-minded drive for profit, and instead look to developing countries for opportunities to make money, while improving peoples’ lives.”
Sydney Business School Dean Professor Greg Whitwell proudly said he believed his school’s ‘business not as usual’ approach was already on the path being laid out by the new university guidelines focused on the UN’s SDGs.
“Business not as usual means challenging the status quo, challenging established norms, the things that people take for granted,” Professor Whitwell said.
“It’s also about the school being an influential voice in the public policy debate and loudly proclaiming the importance of giving as much weight to people and planet as to profits.”