Should enterprise education play a role in developing societal and environmental values in our graduates, so they can better-contribute to supporting the ethical and sustainability challenges facing our People and our Planet?
Little did we know that Manchester Met’s launch of Young Enterprise in 2004, catering for forty nascent entrepreneurs on the then BA (Hons) Business Enterprise degree, would be sowing the entrepreneurial seeds for today’s range of entrepreneurship opportunities open to thousands of Manchester Met students. Early businesses included DJ-ing equipment, graduation hoodies and band promotion (a business trading internationally today).
The infusion of responsible management into our entrepreneurship programmes came in 2006. It wasn’t an arbitrary move or political gesture, nor was it driven by the University’s mission, but rather it was a natural development, emerging from the research and practice of the teaching team, who were exploring the role that entrepreneurship played in developing sustainable responses to the environmental challenges impacting on our People and our Planet. The catalyst for this research in sustainable entrepreneurship emerged out of a serendipitous meeting with Fernando Lourenco, a furniture designer and PhD student studying entrepreneurship and sustainable education. This early meeting led to the infusion of green and ethical perspectives into our delivery of entrepreneurship education. Influence formally recognised with the introduction of a Corporate and Social Responsibility (CSR) Director to the boards of all our Young Enterprise companies alongside the more established directorships in sales, marketing, operations, finance and managing director.
The role of the CSR Director was to inculcate socially responsible values into the Young Enterprise teams and filter every decision, process, and discussion through the lens of responsible management. This new approach led to businesses evolving with explicit social and/or sustainable, purpose and practice: T-Shirt company linked to supporting the homeless, anti-spike devices, cycling for health and the environment, making hydration exciting for primary aged children whilst supporting poorer communities in Africa, recycling, eco-friendly candles, upcycling, natural sustainable sourced coffee flavouring, technology to support the visually impaired, business-to-business sustainable packaging, nutritionist informed healthy popcorn to help tackle obesity, anti-fast fashion education, healthier eating for residents of nursing homes, and more. Many of these companies and individuals have represented Manchester Met at local, regional and national events. Haydar Ali-Ismail of HEYCANE winning IOEE Enterprise Learner of the Year 2018 for his technology supporting the visually impaired.Think Enterprise | 23
This intervention helped students understand that entrepreneurs can be both financially successful, and socially and environmentally responsible. We didn’t see this move as revolutionary, as we had already embedded responsible management and ethics into the core of our general business curriculum. In many ways this was ‘business as usual’ for us. However, it was perhaps the first time we explicitly thought about the potential of our nascent entrepreneurs as environmental and societal influencers in the climate change, health and social justice debates. Indeed it is now our view, Universities must play a pivotal role in developing responsible leaders to take on these global challenges.
These entrepreneurship programmes, whilst successfully influencing the development of students’ social responsibility values, need to be more radical in response to this ever-accelerating impending climate change disaster, health timebomb, and significant social injustices. To this end we have recently piloted an approach to fast-track the development of social and environmental values in our nascent entrepreneurs using interviews, role-play and reflection to explore unethical and selfish behaviours in the context of generating profits for their Young Enterprise companies.
This approach argues that we need to avoid imposing a certain viewpoint and instead create opportunities for students to develop their own values. The exploration of unethical behaviours accelerates the development of ethical values in our nascent entrepreneurs. The role-play exercise helped the Young Enterprise Directors learn and gain insights into the importance of corporate social responsibility, influenced the values and actions of their YE Start-Ups, and increased the likelihood that if the participants were to launch a business post-graduation, that the intent would be for the business to be socially responsible.
Entrepreneurs are not isolated individuals operating separately from the World we inhabit. They are part of an integrated Global economy and their actions have consequences for our People and our Planet. The entrepreneurship programmes at Manchester Metropolitan University are designed to help champion the role of our graduates as responsible leaders equipped with the critical tools and moral imagination to analyse and manage the ethical and sustainability challenges facing today’s entrepreneurs in this globally connected World.
Honorary Fellow of the IOEE
Principal Lecturer and Student Enterprise Faculty Lead, Faculty of Business and Law, Manchester Metropolitan University