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Make Academia Meaningful Again: Research, Cocreation and Impact

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Work should nurture us, not exhaust us. How can academia achieve this?

This session was part of the NBS Sustainability Centres Community (SCC) Workshop 2021. The SCC connects business school sustainability centres worldwide.  

University faculty and staff need to find meaning in their work. For many, this is achieved through relationships with different stakeholders – society, practitioners, students, colleagues, families and friends.

This NBS Workshop session, organized by Helen Etchanchu of OS4Future, explored paths to meaning and especially academics’ desire for impact. Panelists with diverse experiences within academia and university centres described combining research with engagement with practice, society and the running of their own institutions.

Etchanchu commented: “It’s important to share the inspiration we get from some of our natural stakeholders and raise important questions on defining productivity, meaning and success in academia. Making academia meaningful for each other, with each other, may transform academia itself.”

Watch the Session Video

In the conversation:  Melissa Zaksek (University of Michigan) described how her Erb Institute connects academics with practitioners through varying platforms and events. Panelists also described engaging with society through media channels and involvement in think tanks. Closer to home, they suggested that testing research ideas with family members can be one of the best ways to ensure they are relevant and understandable.

Finally: It’s necessary to change academic reward systems, and sustainability centers can lead this transformation.

About the SCC Workshop 2021

Every two years, the NBS Sustainability Centres Community Workshop connects leaders of business school sustainability centres for learning and action. This session was a part of the most recent Workshop in July 2021: “Designing the Business School Sustainability Centre of the Future.” See the main Workshop page for an overview and to access additional sessions.

The 2021 Workshop was hosted by the Center for Sustainability Transformation and Responsibility (STaR) at the Vienna University of Economics and Business and the Institute for Business Ethics and Sustainable Strategy (IBES) at the FH Wien University of Applied Sciences for Management & Communication.

See the Sustainability Centres Community homepage for additional information and to join the group.

Banner photo is taken by Marius Brand of WU Vienna, who gave us a great sense of what our conference would have felt like in Vienna, had it not been virtual.

About the Session Leaders

Helen Etchanchu, OS4future

Helen Etchanchu is Associate Professor and Chairholder of the Communication and organizing for sustainability transformation (COAST) chair at Montpellier Business School, where she is also coordinator of the research and pedagogy group of the Sustainability lab and referent for the UN Principles of Responsible Management Education (PRME) and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN). Her research specifically explores the role of language, meaning, and legitimation dynamics in the sustainability transformation of our societies. She is co-founder of OS4future, an academic movement committed to climate action.

Thomas Franssen, Leiden University

Thomas Franssen is a Senior Researcher at the Centre for Science and Technology Studies at Leiden University. He studies the effects of research governance, notably research funding and research evaluation, on research content and practices. Recently he has started a project on the sustainability transition within academia. He is currently exploring the possibilities for the integration of ‘sustainability’ as a quality criterion in research evaluation frameworks.

Sylvia Grewatsch, Brock University

Sylvia Grewatsch is Assistant Professor for Strategy at the Goodman School of Business, Brock University, Canada. Her research focuses on how organizations can tackle the world’s biggest socio-economic challenges through systems change emerging from social and technological innovations. She is a founding member of the Impact Scholar Community, an organization that gives voice to early- career organizational scholars that strive for relevant research.

Elke Schüßler, JKU Business School

Elke Schüßler is Professor of Business Administration, Head of the Institute of Organization Science and responsible for Programs and Teaching in the Dean Team of JKU Business School at Johannes Kepler University Linz, Austria. Her research focuses on social challenges such as globalization, climate change, decent work and digitalization, lately focusing on the transformation of organizations, industries and work relations in the context of the platform economy. She currently acts as Vice President of the European Group for Organizational Studies, has initiated the timesofcrisis.org and utopiaplatform.wordpress.com open teaching platforms, and launched sustainability programs at her University. She is a member of OS4future, an academic advocacy movement to inspire fellow academics to act on the climate crisis.

Melissa Zaksek, University of Michigan

Melissa Zaksek is Research and Thought Leadership Manager for the Erb Institute at the University of Michigan. Melissa works to advance the institute’s research agenda by building partnerships with company and academic thought leaders and developing and implementing research initiatives that address business’s most pressing business sustainability challenges. With a background in collaborative science, resource management and policy, and structured decision-making, she is deeply committed to building and supporting collaborative efforts that promote environmental, social and economic sustainability.

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