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What If We Changed Business Education?

Business education should be more sustainable, diverse, and connected. Early-career academics share their vision, as a poem.

By Michelina Aguanno, Julian Barg, Julie Bernard, Valen Boyd, Sourabh Jain, Ju Young Lee, Rosalie Luo, and Alice Mascena  

Sometimes an academic article isn’t the best way to share ideas.  

At Ivey Business School’s 2022 Sustainability Conference, PhD students and postdoctoral scholars chose poetry to share their vision for the future of business education.  

“WHAT IF we teach how one can dream, a dream that nobody now dares to dream?”

They wove their stories into a collective narrative to form a poem (below). The poem touches on business education, practice, and research; and its implications for society.   

“We believe sustainability is about diversity and connections,” explained Postdoctoral Researcher Alice Mascena in her introduction to the poem. “We wanted to express our group’s own diverse background and experience with business education.”  

“WHAT IF the echoes of these stories could shape the future we want to see?” 

The group chose poetry – storytelling—to reflect their passion for these issues. “Storytelling is more touching than having statistics, logic, facts, and data thrown at you,” said Postdoctoral Researcher Julie Bernard, who led the process of writing the poem. “We reclaimed the space to tell our stories in our own way as a collective voice.” 

“WHAT IF together, we changed business schools…?” 

The poem’s authors invite others to join in reflection and visioning. “Pause, reflect on your own stories, and look ahead with us to dream for the future of business schools,” Mascena told the audience at the Ivey Conference.  

“What If?”: A Poem 

Poem from stories by and conversations with, in alphabetical order, Michelina Aguanno, Julian Barg, Julie Bernard, Valen Boyd, Sourabh Jain, Ju Young Lee, Rosalie Luo, and Alice Mascena. Writing led by Julie Bernard.  

 

To colleagues, classmates, professors; to those of you struggling to understand my path, my accent, my origins, my worldviews; 

My painful attempts to communicate in a language that is not my own and in an academic culture that is dominated by the English language hegemony.  

This culture creates jargon to communicate, but forgets to use words that common people, the ultimate beneficiaries of our research, can understand. 

We use stories as data, translate these stories into a language that is now beyond the access and understanding of these people; We strive for academic rigor, yet forget its usefulness to these people. 

Driven by the ultimate stereotype of rigorous and productive academic; publishing papers, one after the other, following a never-ending pipeline; we now focus more on publications and rankings rather than impact. 

 

WHAT IF we reimagined how we communicate our research? WHAT IF we designed our research questions with impact in mind? 

To my business school undergraduate classmates, who called me a dreamer when I told them that I wanted to change the world. 

Who said I missed the point when I suggested that the ‘right’ answer was about more than profits. 

When asked to explore the business case of a family pasta sauce operation, a sauce recipe from a long line of amici e famiglia

Business school tools taught me the ‘right’ answer was to leave behind family, buy machines;  

Pursuing profits, productivity, growth, and automation. More and more profits was the “recipe” for success. 

Flavorless and worthless without Nonna’s special ingredients: love, connection and family. 

Where were the tools that taught us to measure family values in addition to dollars? 

Forgetting that purpose goes beyond profits.  

 

WHAT IF business school granted space for values beyond economic growth to guide business decisions? WHAT IF we allowed diversity in how we defined and perceived success? 

To my business school education 

Minimizing the complexity of the problems we’d face, all about growth, profitability, first movers and shakers. 

Wrapped up into neat examples which showcase successes and gloss over failures. 

“Business school didn’t prepare us for this”, said my colleagues as we watched our clients’ lose their businesses due to Covid while we clutched our decision criteria. 

 

WHAT IF business school taught us to anticipate turbulence? WHAT IF it gave us the skills to navigate, and lead during unprecedented complexity? 

To the innocuous minds who taught me ROI, when I imagined firms empowering the weak. 

Finding progress in the invisible hand and the maximization of shareholder wealth. 

Long I stood letting go of my dream, telling myself it’s a hope in vain. 

Now I know it’s no fantasy, the time has come to live my faith. 

 

WHAT IF we teach how one can dream, a dream that nobody now dares to dream? 

To anyone that wishes to dim our light to heal, to minimize our efforts to reconnect, to disregard our attempts to lean in, and to find comfort in the uncomfortable conversations, 

We are reaffirming our role as storytellers, feeling endlessly privileged to be the guardians of stories that are shared with us; 

Daily, I reclaim my voice as a researcher, as an activist, and as a feminist; refusing to dim my light. Refusing to let my voice be relegated to a comment box that will never be opened.  

Daily, following the path that strong women traced before me, before us, and trailing for all the other ones that will come after me. 

Daily, feeling a responsibility to empower, build capacity and make space for the next generation of researchers, for the next generation of women. From the ground up, we rise as strong allies, as a strong community.  

Reconnecting with our community and our colleagues to have impactful and authentic connections; Honouring the communities where we come from. Honouring the communities which we research. Often, one and the same.  

Daily, we renew our commitments to our own humanity, our own individuality, and our own story.  

 

WHAT IF the echoes of these stories could shape the future we want to see? 

To our academic neighbors and cousins outside the business school, 

Let us learn alongside one another as humble servants towards a collective goal, 

A goal rooted in humanity, health, and liberation. 

Refusing to speak over one another, 

Listening with our hearts as emphatically as our ears, and 

Carrying the spirit of our intentions in all our interactions. 

 

WHAT IF we truly worked together towards our emancipation?  

To the corporations and class buddies,  

Trying to downsize my dreams and hopes of changing the lives of others by building sustainable paths; 

We rise with empathy and benevolence, as dreamers and believers. 

Building from scratch research with impact, 

Slowly but surely attempting to start a conversation. 

Slowly making the world a better place.  

Slowly making organizations more accountable.  

 

WHAT IF together, we changed business schools…? 

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