John traveled to Viet Nam and Cambodia as Field Experience for Teaching Business Ethics

In partnership with the Institute of Corporate Responsibility (ICR) at George Washington University, my focus was to integrate spiritual and socially conscious principles in shaping investment policy in emerging markets, specifically around foreign aid, business development, and food policy. A segment of this learning process involves applying tools such as open space technology, training for transformation, and other community based methods to bridge the widening societal gap between the corporation and the community using an ethical leadership framework. In order to do this, I will first conduct research in (1) sustainable food policy for local businesses such as Founding Farmers and (2) conflict commodities connected to the upcoming 2012 Farm Bill that will affect US foreign trade and aid.

Report findings and lessons learned will be distributed at the next George Washington University Service Learning Symposium that connects stakeholders, local businesses, and local residents. These findings will also be utilized to shape policy and socially responsible investing decisions through firms like Calvert Investments. PNME will be an honorary guest at these events and reports will be distributed to their offices.

Project Report As a result of my ever expanding schedule, I decided to realign my research with the Institute of Corporate Responsibility (ICR) to develop an Ethics in Action curriculum designed to offer MBA students a structure and framework for incorporating ethics into their education experience. I did learn significant cultural, political, and economic lessons with my trip to Vietnam and Cambodia as it relates to agriculture, however this was not as significant as the training I planned, developed, and delivered to the first year class of MBA’s at George Washington University (GWU). In addition, much of my summer internship experience at the Overseas Private Investment Corporation supported my longer term goals of financing agriculture projects overseas, however, the food policy issues seemed to take a back seat as more relevant needs surfaced this summer.

The Ethics in Action 5-day workshop I conducted the week of August 17, 2011 was a culmination of an entire year of frustration with my MBA experience. My decision to attend GWU was premised on the school’s shifting interest to incorporate business responsibility (otherwise known as business ethics) into the curriculum and the role that educational institutions ultimately play in shaping tomorrow’s business leaders (and as a direct response to corporate scandals, the financial crisis, and many socio-economic injustices). This aligns with my overall goals of integrating more socially conscious and spiritually geared decision making frameworks into the business model. Throughout my first year of the MBA, I was disheartened by the facilitation skills of professors, their limited passion for their work, the lack of a coordinated message around corporate responsibility and ethics, and the undeveloped mechanisms and structures to support the growth of responsible decision making at this level of our society/institution. My goal in designing the curriculum was to offer an introduction to business ethics through an open space1 dialog approach while also constructively responding to the ‘lack of’ by offering a potential solution. This workshop ultimately compliments the already established Certificate of Responsible Management and the Business Ethics class offering in the first module of the MBA curriculum. To more fully engage students in the business responsibility debate, a speaker series was established that aims to engage students in roundtable discussions, similar to the formats presented in my Ethics in Action workshop. This more comprehensive offering will then culminate in a class specific student pledge at the end of the 2-year program and it will be highlighted by the GW School of Business Dean2. The workshop itself was a collaborative effort between the ICR, the Net Impact3 chapter of GWU, and the MBA Programs Office4 at GWU.

As a result, the 5-day workshop exposed the entire population of incoming MBA’s to a number of business responsibility ideas and frameworks. The 120 students participated in activities such as Take a Stand, whereby students responded non-verbally to statements by physically positioning themselves on a Agree/Disagree spectrum within the auditorium. They then shared their positions and were given the opportunity to re-position themselves if their values, ideals, morals shifted as a result of the discussion. Other activities included Fishbowl dialogs which incorporated business responsibility issues pertinent to students. These dialogs allowed students to speak collegially, yet passionately, about the issue in a controlled setting, while also allowing the audience to participate if they agreed or disagreed with any statements made. A debate was also scheduled based on the topic: “the free market can regulate itself”. And finally, the workshop culminated in a consolidation of the class’s ideas for developing a pledge.

In all, the evaluations were mixed. The highlights of the workshop were the daily feedback discussion I had after each session. Anywhere from 20 to 30 students would encourage and offer support for this effort. They would also provide anecdotal reports suggesting that this was the missing avenue for their interests in business and social responsibility. In the ensuing weeks, I have coordinated with the ICR and MBA students to pursue the curriculum changes suggested in the workshop as well, students have reported more positive engagement with the MBA curriculum in general. A more significant result is that all the parties necessary to shape policy that incorporates business responsibility/ethics into the curriculum have signed on to the idea and are supporting it.