Green is not just the color on student Rakan Aldukheil’s paint brush. Sustainability is a key principle behind the certificate program.

Doing Well By Doing Good: The GWSB Institute of Corporate Responsibility Adds Certificate Program.

By Lisa Zagaroli
Published: Fall 2009

Ari Isaacman Astles, MBA ’10, has always been interested in ways that business leaders can work to improve society.

As a sixth-grade teacher in Los Angeles, she saw the importance of equal opportunity and a fair society. When she returned to school for a master’s degree, her interest in strengthening those ideals through economic development led her to the GW School of Business, which places a high priority on teaching corporate responsibility.

Now Isaacman Astles is giving all her fellow graduate students a way to gain an even deeper commitment to and knowledge of responsible management in business. The tool? A new certificate program.

The Certificate in Responsible Management is the product of brainstorming between Isaacman Astles and John Forrer, associate director of the GWSB Institute for Corporate Responsibility.

Last winter, Forrer and Isaacman Astles attended a United Nations conference where universities were encouraged to adopt the international organization’s Principles of Responsible Management Education (PRME). GWSB is one of 235 universities that signed the PRME initiative and pledged to incorporate its principles into degree programs. Those principles include promoting and researching the values of global social responsibility, sustainability and responsible leadership.

“Society has not just the ability, but the responsibility, to encourage changes that are necessary to create a just society, and we’re not there yet on so many fronts,” said Isaacman Astles, who leads the GWSB group Net Impact while studying strategic management and public policy.

Net Impact is an international nonprofit organization set up “to inspire, educate and equip individuals to use the power of business to create a more socially and environmentally sustainable world.” The network of MBAs, graduate students and professionals spans six continents and includes emerging leaders in corporate social responsibility, social entrepreneurship, nonprofit management and environmental sustainability.

Once Isaacman Astles and Forrer settled on developing a certificate program, they sought help from Lisa Manning, another MBA student who, like Isaacman Astles, is scheduled to graduate next spring.

Manning studies general management and is vice president of social responsibility for the GWSB MBA Association. With Forrer’s guidance, she helped devise the certificate requirements and write a proposal for the program. The process took about four months.

“It enables students to concentrate their studies,” Manning said. “As they are picking courses, it’s a reminder to pick courses that are sustainability and responsibility aligned.”

To qualify for the certificate, MBA students must complete six credit hours in the classroom, spend 50 hours on community service projects and dedicate 45 hours to GW club activities. To keep the work transparent, participants maintain a blog documenting how the various classes and activities demonstrate the students’ understanding and appreciation of PRME’s six principles.

About eight GWSB students began pursuing the certificate in 2009, and Forrer expects more in the coming school year. It is expected to take three semesters to complete.

“We tell our business students that they must act responsibly, lead passionately and think globally,” said Dean Susan M. Phillips. “The certificate in responsible management is an excellent way to incorporate these values into the students’ business school experience.”

Manning said the students’ participation in the certificate program will also demonstrate teamwork, time management and dedication to future employers.

An added benefit to the School will be the certificate program’s role as a recruitment tool, said Forrer, associate research professor of strategic management and public policy at GWSB. He said he is unaware of any other university offering a similar program.

“It will help give us one more tangible activity in the areas of ethics and sustainability to attract students who already recognize the GW School of Business as a leader in this area,” he said. GW