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Centre for Building Sustainable Value

Sustainability: The next great challenge for business leaders

  • Candice White
  • |
  • Nov 25, 2020
Sustainability: The next great challenge for business leaders

Candice White, HBA '14, currently works with the Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation sitting at the World Economic Forum in Geneva, Switzerland.

In just a few years the world has changed dramatically. Conversations about climate change, poverty reduction and inequality have moved into the business mainstream. Business leaders are being tested by a global pandemic that will likely be a test for even more challenging global shifts in the decades to come. The acceleration of climate change will cause global migration, food insecurity, poverty and conflict. Are the business leaders of tomorrow equipped to deal with these challenges?

Business must be a leader in driving solutions to emerging challenges. The idea that business only has a responsibility to its shareholders is falling by the wayside. Today, we are demanding that business has a responsibility to all of its stakeholders: shareholders, customers, suppliers, employees, governments and society at large.

I see this firsthand in my career. I graduated from the Ivey HBA and Sustainability Certificate programs just more than six years ago and spent time in multinational organizations before pursuing economic policy and development work. I now work with the trade team at the World Economic Forum. Businesses are our core partners on projects ranging from deforestation to eradication of global plastic pollution to trade facilitation. This is the situation today. In the future it will not just be the Chief Sustainability Officer (if she or he exists) engaging on these projects; it will be essential for the entire executive team to understand the interconnected nature of environmental, social and economic issues.

I know that Ivey graduates will be the leaders addressing these challenges. I have experienced the value of an Ivey education – the critical thinking, communication, teamwork and leadership skills that we foster will be essential. But they might not be enough.

Being a good manager in the future will require a deep understanding of public goods problems and businesses’ role in addressing them. This will lead to a better world, but it is also in the self-interest of businesses, whose long-term sustainability will depend on it. That is why every Ivey graduate should have a strong understanding of these problems and the solutions that businesses will increasingly be part of.

Ivey can prepare its students to address these challenges by taking a sustainability lens to core courses or introducing new courses altogether. Existing HBA courses like Corporations & Society are well equipped to expand on public goods problems like climate change or international taxation gaps, as well as to discuss solutions such as ongoing work in global policy-setting bodies like the OECD and World Economic Forum, to name just a few.  

This is meant to be the decade of action to deliver the UN Sustainable Development Goals and transform our world. The business community – including the schools preparing the next generation of business leaders – must act now. As the role of business becomes even more important in the global policy landscape, I believe that Ivey has a responsibility to equip its students with the relevant skills and knowledge.