This case study relates to the “Poverty Alleviation and Profitability”, course embedded within a Master of Management (CEMS) programme, at the University of Sydney Business School. The purpose of this course is to challenge students to re-imagine the traditional assumption that the purpose of business is to increase shareholder wealth via various mechanisms including informal and formal reflections as well as in class debates. The SDGs provide a novel framework to facilitate this type of thinking by encouraging students to ask questions such as; why can’t businesses be ambidextrous and engage in both profits and alleviating social issues (e.g, poverty) simultaneously? Why do businesses exist and what is their role in society? Does business engagement with social issues such as poverty, hunger and gender equality have negative consequences? Can we be the generation that changes the way businesses address social issues, particularly poverty? The fundamental change that is required in business students to question traditional assumptions about business is difficulty. Therefore, when integrating social dimensions (through the SDG framework) I focus on the mental models of students and encourage questioning, as well as shifting and facilitating students in developing new interpretations that may result in changes in behaviours (Johnson, 2008). Therefore, I hope to systematically challenge the students to rethink their assumptions of business and career intentions in the context of SDGs by assessing their changes in mental models via a Transformative Learning approach as articulated by (Mezirow, 1997). This type of approach and thinking by students (future business leaders) becomes more important, Post Covid 19, as governments across the world look to business for economic recovery, which necessities engaging with social issues.
As the key theme of the course was that the SDGs, (particularly SDG1-No poverty) are a framework for business strategy, the emphasis was on discussing case studies that illustrated both effective and ineffective use of SDGs in their strategies. Furthermore, a flipped classroom approach was used whereby original videos of important proponents of SDGs and business strategy were developed, including C-Suite executives from Konica Minolta, IAG, Nonprofits as well as partners from Deloitte and KPMG.