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Looking to the 2019-2020 Academic Year: A Letter from the Faculty Director

Sept. 19, 2019
Dear Friends of the Center for Sustainable Enterprise,
As we have entered a new academic year, I would like to offer some reflections and aspirations for the year ahead. On a personal level, I recently celebrated my fourth anniversary here at UNC and my first year as Faculty Director of the center. It was a busy year celebrating 20 years of sustainability at Kenan-Flagler. I am extremely proud of what we have accomplished together and what we are looking to achieve in the next 20 years!
Our mission is to assemble and share thought leadership in research, education and best practice in sustainability, and I am happy to report that in the past year we’ve been able to fulfill our promise in three important ways. First, we hosted a successful conference of a consortium of top universities called the Alliance for Research in Corporate Sustainability, where academics from around the globe shared their research at the forefront of sustainability thought leadership here in Chapel Hill. Second, we revised our curriculum to focus it on more essential skills as well as more pertinent topics and issues in sustainability. This gives our students both the sustainability mindset and the toolkit, providing a competitive advantage in the job market. Third, we hosted our second annual UNC Sustainability Awards, where we welcomed Kenan-Flagler alumni and North Carolina practitioners to celebrate their achievements based on their initiative, innovation and impact in the area of sustainability.
There are many things happening at the Center, of course, and I believe all of them are important but in the interest of your time, I will only highlight a couple of initiatives that I think are essential to our future. First, we are in the process of hiring an Executive Director for the center, who will expand our engagement with the industry and provide thought leadership more broadly. Second, we just welcomed our first Ph.D. student who will help us advance our research and help us stay relevant in the topics we study by attending industry conferences and interviewing sustainability managers. Third, we plan to host a practitioner-oriented event (working title “Executive Roundtable on Current Sustainability Challenges and Opportunities”). This event will gather sustainability professionals from top companies, giving them a confidential and safe space to express their concerns and share ideas on how to overcome the roadblocks facing the field of sustainability in the current environment. Fourth, through our partnership with Kenan Institute, we will continue translating and disseminating ongoing research through videos and blog posts. Finally, we are hoping to announce some big news this year that will help the sustainability of our center going forward.
All this said, we are just getting started. I remain optimistic about sustainability, even though, coming from Europe, I see a long journey for the U.S. ahead. I am glad to see companies taking stances on many important social and environmental issues, but it is our students and passionate alumni (as well as my children) that motivate and inspire me to do more. Traveling with 25 MBA students over a two-week period on a Global Immersion Elective course focused on sustainability and social enterprise, taught me that our program prepares students to be effective advocates and leaders for solving environmental, social and governance (ESG) challenges. As they pursue their careers across many industries and functions, their impact on this world will make it a better place. In fact, we need more students taking our courses, whether they get our sustainable enterprise concentration enrichment or not, to be better equipped to help companies evolve and manage growing ESG challenges. One initiative that I am very excited about and hope to launch soon is providing MBA Fellowships, so more students can have the opportunity to take advantage of our curriculum and become the change-makers we so desperately need. I hope you will support our center and its activities as we embark on our next 20 years!
Best regards,
Olga Hawn, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Strategy and Entrepreneurship
Sustainability Distinguished Fellow
Faculty Director, Center for Sustainable Enterprise
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School

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