What IS the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative? (Last in the GRLI series)

Having returned and rested from a very intense week, I’m now able to step back and reflect on my experience at the GRLI General Assembly in Finland. Clearly, as a newcomer to the organization, I share these only as my first impressions. I’m well aware that there is much more to learn about the organization and that my relationship with GRLI is a work in progress!

First, to understand GRLI, it’s important to begin with the origins and history of the organization. The narrative one hears is that GRLI was founded in 2004 by a group of like-minded and like-hearted business school deans and faculty who wanted to change the focus of business education – and business – to reflect a greater sense of global responsibility and social purpose. As a result, over the past several years, a great deal of effort has gone into making structural changes that impact business school curriculum and management.  As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, GRLI has also worked the AACSB and EFMD to make key changes in accreditation requirements for business schools. In addition, in 2011, GRLI entered into a collaboration with the World Business School Council for Sustainable Business and the United Nations Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) Secretariat, culminating in an initiative referred to as the 50+20 Project. There is a great deal of information about all of this available online; however, here’s a link to a video with Katrin Duff, Dean of the Business School in Lausanne and a central GRLI player, discussing these various initiatives: http://50plus20.org/archives/2996.

There are many other important accomplishments, but the point I’d like to make is that on first glance, it would be tempting to pigeonhole GRLI as predominantly European academic organization, when in fact that is not its full mission. From the beginning, GRLI has aspired to be a multi-stakeholder community, organized around the core idea of transforming the leadership and management of businesses. For this reason, it welcomes a variety of participants from businesses and other institutions as well as individuals such as consultants and practitioners.

It’s also important to clarify that GRLI does not view itself as a typical membership organization, providing services and resources. Rather, if you belong to GRLI, you are considered a partner, which conveys an expectation that you will actively participate in shaping the thought and actions that define the organization. As such, you are not a passive member, but a committed participant in an emerging and ongoing movement for change. As you can imagine as a first timer, the meeting did not feel like your average conference!  Instead, I found myself with a relatively small group of dedicated professionals ready to roll their sleeves up and get to work for an entire week. This created an energizing environment which, in turn, generated a great deal of learning, intimacy and deep dialogue.

Of course this is not to say that GRLI is a fully evolved organization. Although I was completely engaged by both the content and the participants of the meeting, I was simultaneously noticing what appeared to be missing, and also what I might hope for in the future. For example, I would like to see more global representation and diversity, more leadership scholars, more business practitioners, more measurable outcomes, etc. However, I felt that these wishes were shared by others and the dialogue an important part of the ongoing growth and development of the organization. Further, my “wishes” also revealed my biases, beliefs and assumptions – always a good opportunity for self-reflection. (As an example, I had to confront my the fact that my pragmatic, American, push-for-results way of operating sometimes interferes with listening to what the other person is saying!)

So of course there are tensions – seemingly productive tensions – as one would expect with any group of really smart people committed to a big vision. As I enter the organization, it feels as if GRLI is facing a crossroads of sorts as its members look ahead to the next ten years. With that in mind, a new strategy is in the works, along with a host of new initiatives. Notably, one of these priorities is to bring GRLI to North America in the academic, corporate, and consultant sectors. Ann Dinan, the Head of GRLI for North America is already hard at work with an ambitious multi-pronged strategy.

I return from Finland enriched by many new relationships with like-minded friends and colleagues and hopeful about what this community can accomplish as it embarks on its next chapter. For those of you who are curious to find out more, my recommendation is to join us and see what we can create together! The next opportunity to do that will be from October 15-17 at Case Western’s 3rd Forum for Business as an Agent of World Benefit. GRLI is one of the key sponsors of the conference, along with the Fowler Center for Sustainable Value. For more information on this conference see:  http://globalforumbawb.com. I hope to see you there!