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Addressing sustainability challenges in India

A first-of-its-kind symposium focused on sustainability education and research in India was organized by UNC Kenan-Flagler and the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIMB).

The schools hosted “Advancing Sustainability Education and Research” in Bangalore Jan. 5-7 at IIMB’s Executive Management Centre and a campus of Wipro Ltd., which co-sponsored the event.

An exchange of sustainability-related research with a special focus on India and best practices in teaching sustainability attracted 100 scholars, instructors and business professionals from 39 institutions – most of them from across India but also from the U.S. and Japan.

Indian scholars called the collaboration inspiring and reported they are eager to mainstream sustainability into classrooms, research and boardrooms.

The event was sponsored by an Obama-Singh 21st Century Knowledge Initiative grant, awarded by the United States-India Educational Foundation to UNC Kenan-Flagler and IIMB in 2013. Former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Barack Obama announced the initiative to build collaboration between U.S. and Indian institutions of higher education in priority fields.

IIMB and UNC Kenan-Flagler are partnering on initiatives to promote sustainability – economic prosperity, social equity and environmental stewardship – in India, where sustainable economic development is an acute challenge.

UNC Kenan-Flagler“The symposium was a hallmark of our work to date and further strengthened our relationship with IIMB,” said Julia Kruse, director of the Global Business Center at UNC Kenan-Flagler. “We also made additional plans for future collaboration in research and teaching.”

The event featured 35 presentations, plenary panels with well-known experts and a demonstration of alternative pedagogies to teach sustainability, led by the founder of Bangalore’s Little Theater and IIMB students.

Topics addressed included remanufacturing, reverse logistics, corporate environmental reporting, microfinance, base-of-the-pyramid innovations, humanitarian and social entrepreneurship, pollution, managing natural resources, alternative and affordable energy systems, climate change and environmental legislation.

“As a researcher, the symposium sparked my interest around the role of supply chains in enabling sustainability and, in particular, carbon emission reductions,” said Jayashankar Swaminathan, GlaxoSmithKline Distinguished Professor of Operations and faculty director of the Global Business Center. “As the principal investigator of the Obama-Singh grant on the UNC side, it was heartening to witness the knowledge dissemination and the strong impact that the symposium had on participants from both India and the U.S.”

UNC Kenan-FlaglerThe UNC Kenan-Flagler team presented on sustainability research and best practices in sustainability education and ran an interactive session to define the desired outcomes of sustainability education.

Operations professor Vinayak Deshpande developed a new understanding of sustainability initiatives at business schools and companies in India. “I was surprised by the level of interest, as well as the progress made in India,” he said. “The visit to Wipro was particularly enlightening as it highlighted corporations’ role in impacting sustainability efforts in India.”

In addition to business professors from both schools, participants included P.S. Narayan, vice president and head of sustainability for Wipro Ltd., and representatives from UNICEF, Hewlett Packard, the Carbon Disclosure Project, Asian Development Bank and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The symposium opened new pathways for collaboration both within India and between Indian and U.S. participants, said strategy and entrepreneurship professor Lisa Jones Christensen. “I also learned about cutting-edge initiatives – both small and medium in size – which I will share with my students in Chapel Hill to show how innovation is occurring across the globe.”

“Hearing the thoughts of so many Indian scholars about what students should be learning as part of their management education was invaluable,” said Carol Hee, director of the Center for Sustainable Enterprise and strategy and entrepreneurship professor. “Together we are addressing what our students need to learn so that they will become leaders equipped to deal with and help solve the sustainability challenges of the 21st century.”

“Hearing the thoughts of so many Indian scholars about what students should be learning as part of their management education was invaluable”

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