5 Practices to Save the World A look at the culture of a Sustainable MBA

On 11-14 March 2010, I had the honor of being the Change Agent in Residence for a weekend at Bainbridge Graduate Institute http://bgi.edu/ located on an island near Seattle Washington. It was a wonderful experience to be able to interaction with and sharing Inclusion as the HOW concepts with students, faculty and students. I walked away highly impressed with the Mission and the talent and thinking of the students. Sitting at a table at meal time with a cluster of students engaging in a dialogue about organizations and change was one of many highlights. I asked a few of the students to write a blog that we would post on the KJCG Website about anything that was on their mind...see Nina's blog below: By Nina Carduner Bainbridge Grad Institute Class of 2011

The path to global environmental sustainability is a hard and immense journey, with the looming threat of worsening climate change ever on our shoulders. Fingers are pointing to developed and developing countries, to big business and obstinate governments. The world is full of problems with few visible solutions. Yet part of our collective struggle lies at the very heart of organizational dysfunction; our planet needs a culture of inclusion. The truth is, we all play a part in environmental destruction and we all play a part in dividing and conquering access to natural resources and human rights. We either destroy or once disempowered and afraid -- we passively watch. The exclusionary nature of humans coupled with the capacity to exploit within our species is harming our continued existence on the planet. When I woke up to these realities, I began a personal quest to find the answers to my question, “how do we make the changes we need for sheer survival?”

These questions lead me to the Bainbridge Graduate Institute (BGI), to earn an MBA in Sustainable Business. The school is not even a decade old and is the first of its kind to offer a business degree that addresses our world’s need for environmental sustainability. Our school motto exclaims, “Changing business for good!”

Certainly, the school faces all the normal hurdles of a start-up on top of the pressures to confront climate change. Yet, within the school, rests a key foundation that supports the inter-personal skills I believe will lead us towards cooperative inclusive solutions in addressing the world’s problems. I’ve broken down this foundation into five core practices that BGI embodies and incorporates.

1. Emphasize Co-Creation Part of the learning curve at BGI comes when you realize, you’re not going to get all the answers from faculty. This was a rude awakening during my first two months after years in traditional academic institutions that emphasize pedagogy and regurgitation. Instead, curiosity and exploration within guided teamwork set the stage for finding the most profound and impactful answers. Hierarchy is not entrenched and all voices carry equal weight in the BGI circle. The faculty does not see students as empty vessels ready to receive their vast knowledge, but as partners in learning with value and experience to add to the class. Once I got used to this difference, I felt excited and passionate to share my voice and I feel I’ve become a more resourceful person throughout the course of my studies.

2. Protect and promote diversity awareness Significant parts of the BGI curriculum are dedicated to personal development and social justice. In these courses, we sometimes experience discomfort, awkwardness, fear, and pain. Yet, these feelings are the simple result of doing the deep personal reflections that the coursework requires. Going through personal development and watching your classmates do the same leads to greater empathy and awareness of others. For myself, I experienced an extremely challenging awakening to the white privilege I have enjoyed my entire life. Doing so has enriched my life and my personal friendships in ways I could not have imagined. The simple understanding that other people experience the world differently than I do you can helps all of us serve one another in the ways we truly need. That awareness alone helps us engage people before we act without fully understanding who may be affected and if we are truly serving their interests.

3. Facilitate open conversations Over the years, as BGI has expanded in size, the school has experienced numerous shifts in culture. Students and faculty keep an open dialogue going through some of the most difficult community conversations. When difficult issues come up at BGI, they are vocalized in our open circles when the whole student body is present. If we are not in session, these discussions are taken to our online forums where everyone is invited to weigh in. These conversations are often framed within the context of the first two practices mentioned above.

4. Make public appreciations It’s funny how subtle differences in language can make a huge impact. You can say, “I would like to thank you” or you can be more direct and take full ownership of your gratitude by saying, “I thank you...” These are some of the interpersonal skills we learn at BGI. In our open circles, BGI creates space for people to express deep gratitude and appreciation for each other. These appreciations run the gamut, for small kindnesses to deep supportive friendships. Bearing witness and holding the positive energy of gratitude with the student body and faculty has been instrumental in building the supportive community at BGI.

5. Recognize all people’s skills and values When BGI asked me in my admissions interview, “What talents and experience could you share with the rest of the school?” I immediately racked my brain for the most business-y things I could think of. With a background in performing arts, it didn’t occur to me that a business school would value my artistic side. Yet, that is exactly what I was told next when the dean of admissions offered, “Can we tell you what we think you can offer the BGI community?” It was quite a stunning experience to feel valued as an artist by a business school and it was the first time I felt openly appreciated as an artist. Part of diversity is recognizing that every person has vast untapped knowledge and skill sets. I didn’t even realize this about myself before attending BGI. I wonder how many of us are still in this boat? The world’s challenges will require more than “group think” to re-imagine a sustainable world.

Like all organizations that are trying to operate in a different more inclusive way, the school still has some ground to travel. Yet, the ability to traverse that ground is supported by the five practices. In many organizations, people are afraid to be singled out as the “gadfly” when bringing up concerns or problems. People are afraid to ask for help, or ask for what they need. At BGI, we are encouraged to bring our voices and express our needs. Doing so may not always get the immediate results we seek, but the administration and faculty are quick to listen and are supportive of the discussions that will lead to solutions.

In the big picture, I see the world edging toward these practices with every new generation. We are not helpless individuals. BGI has helped me see that everyone is part of the solution.