Multi-Stakeholder Collaboration: A Catalyst for Inclusive Sustainable Development

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In recent times, there has been a growing body of concern towards global environmental and social crises such as climate change and loss of job security due to COVID-19. This has consequently led to an increased emphasis and pressure placed on businesses globally to commit to sustainable and ethical business practices that primarily align with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

This subject matter was tackled throughout the fifth roundtable of the 2022 AUC Business Forum held on March 16, 2022, under the title “Multi-Stakeholder Collaboration: A Catalyst for Inclusive Sustainable Development”. The roundtable was moderated by Ahmed Abdel Meguid, associate professor of accounting at the AUC School of Business, and featured six esteemed guests well-versed in the topic of discussion.

Sustainability is an essential part of modern-day business operations

Upholding sustainability within one’s business can aid in gaining a level of competitive advantage and leveraging. This was emphasized by Ayman Ismail, partner, chairman, and CEO of Mountain View Egypt and chairman of the board of UN Global Compact Network Egypt. “From a current business perspective, moving towards sustainable practices and being green is a foundational issue and businesses do not have the luxury to choose whether to employ them or not”, emphasized Ismail adding: “We are lowering our competitive advantage as businesses if we choose not to adopt a strong sustainability agenda.”

Emily Waita, Africa public affairs director of Coca-Cola Africa, Kenya, demonstrated how crucial it is for businesses to adopt sustainable practices in order to increase their chances of acquiring funding from investors. Accordingly, Waita stressed that “if organizations are not ready to embrace sustainable development goals, or otherwise demonstrate that they are ESG (environmental, social and governance) savvy, they will miss out on numerous opportunities for financing as investors are now more inclined to invest towards sustainable ventures.”

Producing future sustainability-inclined business leaders

Several of the roundtable speakers illustrated the importance of instilling a sense of CSR and environmental responsibility in students through business schools’ curricula. Jon Foster-Pedley, dean and director of Henley Business School Africa, South Africa, even went as far as to say that “responsible business schools now have to be activist business schools [towards sustainability], even risking their own destruction for the sake of a much greater possibility in the future.”

Dima Jamali, dean of the College of Business Administration, University of Sharjah, UAE, stated that “business schools have a key role to play in nurturing the culture of responsibility among students, who represent a body of future leaders.” She continued: “We have a big responsibility on our shoulders because we need to create a different breed of leaders who passionately embrace and understand sustainability and would be seeking to make a difference in the business environment in that regard”.

Collaboration yields more sustainability-related progress

Cooperation between different entities helps to direct and expand the efforts taken towards sustainability. “Collaboration and partnership is key because progress does not occur if each entity is acting alone, thus, if we can bring different players to work together and coalesce their efforts, the more we have an increased chance of making progress [in the area of sustainability],” reinforced Jamali.

Ismail also touched on this when he asserted that “no organization can create a truly significant impact alone, they can only create a significant impact if they collaborate.”

Limitations of ESG and greenwashing

Laila Iskander, former Minister of State for Environment Affairs and founder of CID Consulting stressed that abiding by current ESG standards is not a true indicator of sustainability.

“Companies can have reports highlighting their application of all the ESG standards in their businesses, but in reality, they are still negatively impacting and destroying environments,” she stated. This is what Iskander described as greenwashing. “For instance, many oil transporting and mining companies, that have caused global disasters, have been financed by banks that have passed the ESG standards,” she explained.

To conclude, the main points tackled in this roundtable included the necessity of upholding sustainability within one’s business in today’s world, the responsibility that business schools around the globe have to promote a sustainability-oriented mindset amongst students, and the need for collaboration to achieve that. Finally, the greenwashing phenomenon was highlighted and this illustrates the need for corporations to go above and beyond and take further action to be truly sustainable and green.

To watch the full roundtable, click here.