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Journal of technology management & innovation

versión On-line ISSN 0718-2724

Journal of Technology Management & Innovation vol.11 no.4 Santiago  2016

http://dx.doi.org/10.4067/S0718-27242016000400005 

Research Articles

 

Beyond 'Innocents Abroad': Reflecting on Sustainability Issues During International Study Trips+

 

Anne H. Reilly 1, Mary Ann McGrath 1*and Kristine Reilly2

+An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 19th IAJBS World Forum at Saint Louis University, July 2013

(1) Quinlan School of Business, Loyola University Chicago, USA

(2) Xavier University, USA *Corresponding author: mmcgrat@luc.edu


Abstract: With ecosystems and populations in many regions threatened by rapid development, sustainability is a critical component for businesses in mature markets and emerging economies alike. The International Association of Jesuit Business Schools notes that global sustainability involves a broad set of interconnected issues ranging from environmental preservation to social justice to desirable production and consumption patterns. Jesuit business schools are uniquely positioned to address sustainability issues with their focus on teaching managerial content in tandem with corporate social responsibility. Further, the Ignatian Pedagogy Paradigm of experience, reflection, and action would suggest that business students may benefit from reflective observation in support of learning about sustainability.

In this paper, we examine the international study trip as an opportunity for students to learn about sustainability, with results suggesting that student understanding about the broad sustainability domain may be enhanced through the study abroad experience. We discuss how two classes of primarily American MBA students traveling to emerging markets (one class to Santiago, Chile and one class to Johannesburg, South Africa) were able to connect local business practices with economic and social as well as environmental sustainability issues, enhancing both student engagement and learning outcomes. Further, these students' sustainability experiences while in an unfamiliar environment provided the opportunity to apply the potentially transformative experience, reflection, and action components of the Ignatian Pedagogy Paradigm. Compared to similar graduate business students enrolled in regular classes, we argue that these students discerned deeper connections with the economic, social, and environmental issues of sustainability.

Key words: Sustainability; Study Abroad; Emerging Markets; Ignatian Pedagogy



Beyond 'Innocents Abroad': Reflecting on Sustainability Issues during International Study Trips

With ecosystems and populations in many regions threatened by rapid development, sustainability is a critical component for businesses in mature markets and emerging economies alike. The International Association of Jesuit Business Schools proposes that global sustaina-bility involves a broad set of interconnected issues that range from achieving environmental conservation to social entrepreneurship, poverty eradication, social justice, desirable production and consumption patterns, species preservation, and supporting spiritually rich lives across the planet. Measuring sustainability performance in any domain requires consideration of multiple stakeholders, a concept integral to Jesuit values (Beabout & Wilson, 2014). Jesuit business schools are thus particularly qualified to teach business content integrated with corporate social responsibility, and including a sustainability dimension in their curricula is a growing trend (Reilly, 2013; Rusinko, 2010; Van Marrewijk & Werre, 2003). Prior research (e.g., Cordano, Ellis, & Scherer, 2003) suggests that adding these topics to business classes can sensitize students to sustainability-related issues as well as heighten their interest in this important area of management.

In this paper, we add two dimensions to student learning about sus-tainability: study abroad and reflective learning. In particular, we ask, When paired with a conscious awareness of—and reflection about--the people-planet-profit dimensions of sustainability, are the learning outcomes in a study abroad class different from a 'standard' course? The Ignatian Pedagogy Paradigm of experience, reflection, and action would suggest that students engaged in study abroad experiences may benefit from reflective observation as both a critical learning style and in adapting to new perspectives. As noted by Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J. (former Superior General), "Students, in the course of their formation, must let the gritty reality of this world into their lives, so they can learn to feel it, think about it critically, respond to its suffering, and engage in it constructively" (2000, address at Santa Clara University). Drawing on observations collected during two MBA study trips (one for ten days to Santiago, Chile and one for five weeks to Johannesburg, South Africa), we found enhanced student understanding about the broad spectrum of sustainability issues through participating in the international study experience. Compared to similar graduate business students enrolled in regular classes, we argue that these students discerned deeper connections with economic, social, and environmental issues, as reflected both in their informal classroom discussions and their formal written assignments.

Linking Sustainability to Study Abroad

The Jesuit mission of educating students to respect the needs of the environment and the global community provides a compelling impetus for integrating a sustainability dimension within the international study experience (Reilly, 2013). Indeed, the emphasis on the common good underlying Jesuit education may help to support a deeper student awareness of sustainability's complexity as well as potentially stronger learning outcomes (Morris & Grogan, 2015). Witnessing first-hand the impact of rapid development on an emerging nation's social infrastructure is a very powerful learning tool (Tellis, 2011), as is having to cope with local conditions such as air pollution and smog (Stephenson, 1999). For example, during the Johannesburg five-week trip, the region was in the midst of a drought. While residents (including our students) were encouraged to monitor water use carefully, the depleted reservoir was unable to support local needs, creating sporadic water outages and pressure drops.

Study abroad provides an opportunity to explore sustainability beyond the classroom, ofFering a broader perspective of the triple bottom line. First, students may be introduced to environmental sustainability technologies that they had not experienced in the United States. For example, their first impression of Johannesburg included the thousands of solar powered water heaters on the roofs of tiny individual houses, and local restaurant owners told of the competition to purchase their used cooking oil for biodiesel fuel. Real-life examples of interconnected sustainability elements can help students better understand the complexities of managerial decision making about resource allocation (Cordano et. al., 2003; Beabout & Wilson, 2014). Second, given the scope of the study abroad experience, environmental topics are more likely to spill over into the economic and social sustainability dimensions (Lewis & Niesenbaum, 2005; Tellis, 2011). For example, one student in our Chile course began her paper by considering the land degradation caused by copper mining in Chile and closed with a discussion of the impact of natural resource extraction on indigenous peoples. Another student paper positioned the damming of a river for hydroelectricity within the realm of policy change, addressing the social costs of opening public land for private development as well as environmental concerns. By combining environmental sustainability problems with their interconnected social and economic issues, students can better understand the concept of 'net impact' in real-world situations.

This deeper knowledge is consistent with the model of work-based learning proposed by Raelin (1997) and linked to action learning by Raelin and Coghlan (2006). These pedagogical approaches emphasize the powerful learning that may occur in a group setting and in real time, using actual rather than simulated problems. The study abroad experience merges classroom training with management-related developmental experiences, and thereby "acknowledges the intersection of explicit and tacit forms of knowing" (Raelin, 1997:574). Raelin and Coghlan's (2006) emphasis on integrating conventional classroom learning with reflective problem-solving in practical contexts align with the experience—reflection—action framework of the Ignatian Pedagogy Paradigm (IPP).

Reflective Practice, the Ignatian Pedagogy Paradigm, and the International Study Trip

Reflective practice may support learning by developing critical thinking skills through the analysis of one's life experiences. The impact of reflection in the learning process has been recognized for decades (Dewey, 1938; Schon, 1983), and reflective practice is found in many disciplines. In the management and leadership domain, prior literature has noted that developing management competencies may be linked to managers' ability to reflect socially on action and experience (Segon, Booth, O'Shannassy, & Thompson, 2010). Hedberg (2008) argues further that the capacity for reflective thought should be intentionally added to the learning repertoire of management students. As Kolb and Kolb (2005) note, one means to deepen students' understanding of organizational processes is through reflective practice, which may further result in a higher level of personal purpose (Pavlovich, Collins, &Jones, 2009).

While students in any domain of study may benefit from reflective practice, business school students may encounter special challenges in learning reflective practice (Gosling & Mintzberg, 2004). Business school curricula include a plethora of quantitative-based courses that require linear, convergent problem solving--classic "left brain" activities, rather than intuitive, divergent "right brain" thinking. Further, many business schools measure organizational effectiveness solely by bottom-line profits. In contrast, the Jesuit perspective emphasizes interests of multiple stakeholders and motives beyond financial gains, thus providing an excellent context for reflective practice. Complicated and thorny issues experienced during study abroad, such as business-related environmental degradation and subsistence marketing, offer opportunities for Jesuit business students to assess current business practices and to consider different options for the future (Beabout & Wilson, 2014). Thoughtful, reflective practice informed by the Ignatian Pedagogy Paradigm encourages students to engage in more holistic, creative approaches to critical thinking and analysis.

The study abroad experience provides an opportunity to apply the three basic tools--experience, reflection, and action--of the Ignatian Pedagogy Paradigm. Students benefit from the opportunity to discern and reflect on paradigms that may be outside their prior experiences. Morris and Grogan note, "The IPP describes the Jesuit educational goal as one that develops learners to habitually think and act with competence, conscience, and compassion, always seeking the greater good" (2015:56). Prior literature has illustrated that actual experiences (e.g., study abroad) followed by reflection and application (e.g., a sustainability assignment) can measurably enhance student learning (Smart & Csapo, 2007). Reflecting on personal experience is a form of experiential learning (Kolb & Kolb, 2005), and it represents an important means of deepening student understanding and engagement (Raelin & Coghlan, 2006). Dehler and Edmonds (2006) note that reflective practice offers an opportunity to challenge accepted beliefs and assumptions, clearly a fundamental issue in the study abroad environment.

Studies have found that study abroad classes can have a positive impact on the overall development of students' cross-cultural sensitivity (Anderson, et al., 2005). Study abroad brings students away from the distractions and demands of campus life, providing an opportunity for deeper, more purposeful learning about complex issues such as sustainability. Indeed, it affords a similar positive opportunity for the participating faculty, who often assume the juxtapositional role of fellow student in addition to instructor and program leader (Fes-tervand & Tillery, 2001). For many students, the international study trip may be transformational in affecting their personal development, including their attitudes about the world and its diverse inhabitants. In her study of 16 business leaders who championed sustainability initiatives, Rimanoczy (2014) found similarities in their development of social sensitivity and a sense of personal mission based on some form of "awakening" or transformative experience as adults. Corresponding results were reported by Schein (2015) in his interviews with 65 senior corporate sustainability leaders. The first of five major themes Schein noted was that his respondents' personal experiences, including "seeing poverty and environmental degradation in developing countries" (2015:10), shaped their ecological worldviews. Thus, gathering 'real-world' data about sustainability outcomes—both positive and negative--may foster the experiential learning consistent with the Jesuit ideal of transformative education.

Study abroad has a long history of encouraging students to become global learners as well as gaining hands-on familiarity with new cultures. The opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds may enhance cross-cultural awareness and foster respect for varying religions, races, and cultures. Over two decades ago, Carlson and Wi-daman (1988) found increased levels of international political concern, cross-cultural interest, and cultural cosmopolitanism for students participating in study abroad. We shared a similar experience in Santiago, where the free-ranging population of stray dogs is visible throughout the city streets. One student searched for an explanation and commented,

Chileans often feed and take care of [200,000+] strays...which like many unspoken problems in Chile go back to politics. During the General Pinochet dictatorship, many dogs were killed by lethal injection. Since then there has been a backlash towards any interference from the government or even NGOs in terms of animal control.

These study experiences may contribute to this global, multi-cultural focus; Lewis and Niesenbaum (2005) reported an increased interest in interdisciplinary studies and more awareness of globalization among their study abroad students. The opportunity to gain a broader perspective of the world helps students build self-confidence, create varied connections and friendships, and gain an understanding of international business that will be beneficial in their future careers.

In addition, learning from a cross-cultural experience usually improves interpersonal communication skills (Peppas, 2005). While traveling outside their home country, students interact with local people daily, often without the benefit of foreign language expertise. In her 2005 study abroad research, Williams found that exposure to varying cultures was the greatest predictor of intercultural communication skills. These skills may contribute to increased global cooperation and fluency when engaging in international business. Further, study abroad experiences may force monolingual students to rely on observational research, encouraging them to broaden their framework for analysis and interpretation. Exploring sustainability issues may encourage students to participate directly in eco-friendly initiatives such as public bike-sharing programs, and learn that the economics— and the demographics--of urban bicycling vary significantly across nations. Students who participate in study abroad programs thus may gain a better understanding of how global corporations function on a multi-cultural level, and must address the challenges of sustaina-bility differently in different places.

Implementing a Sustainability Focus in a Study Abroad Experience

The sustainability dimension described in this paper is an addition to the co-authors' ongoing study abroad course repertoire. We added a sustainability focus to the required course assignments, and this article discusses our findings from that addition. To provide some comparative data, we also contrast the study abroad course outcomes with similar sustainability-focused coursework completed over a four-year period in standard class format. All three co-authors have prior involvement with study abroad. During the past two decades, both the first and second authors have led multiple undergraduate and MBA short-term study abroad courses to a variety of locations, including Rome, Beijing, Santiago, and Johannesburg. In addition, the second author lived in Shanghai for two years, where she worked as a faculty member in an international university, and she has served as director for an international full-time MBA program that included longer-term cultural immersion in multiple overseas locations. The third author, a recent Jesuit university graduate, participated in summer study abroad courses in Greece and Rome.

Learning about Sustainability in Chile

Our first study abroad and sustainability example draws from an advanced-level MBA elective course entitled "International Dimensions of Cross-Cultural Management and Marketing" (cross-listed to maximize enrollment options for students). It was a quarter-long course that included a 10-day intensive learning trip to Santiago, Chile and its environs. In addition to daily course meetings, the class included complementary visits to the Santiago corporate offices of both local Chilean multinational companies and the Latin American headquarters of U.S.-based firms. The students were typical graduate students in a part-time evening MBA program based in a major, ethnically-diverse, Midwestern metropolitan area and business center.

In addition to other standard course requirements (e.g., an exam and a group project), this class included an individual written assignment focused specifically on sustainability. 0The assignment asked students to:

Choose any topic related to environmental sustainability. Investigate and do a comparative assessment of the planning, policies and execution of this topic in the U.S. and in Chile. The topic should be one that stimulates your interest and curiosity. Some examples are the recycling of a specific item, water, air pollution, car emissions, LEED building certification, energy saving appliances, hospital or human waste, farming chemicals, etc.

Students were encouraged to do preliminary research on their topic at home before leaving for the study abroad trip, with the dual objective of preparing for the cross-cultural experience and beginning the reflective practice exercise (Smart & Csapo, 2007). Also (as with the standard course), the instructors included (before the trip) the same two-hour lecture and discussion module about sustainability, the triple bottom line, and metrics about sustainability performance. The students chose their topics, summarized in Table 1 below. Figure 1 presents the grading rubric for the assignment.

 

Table 1. Sustainability Projects from Chile Study Abroad Class (n= 16 projects)

 

Figure 1. Grading Rubric for U.S./Chile Assignment

The assignment: Short individual paper

Choose any topic related to environmental sustainability. Investigate and do a comparative assessment of the planning, policies and execution of this topic in the U.S. and in Chile. The topic should be one that stimulates your interest and curiosity. Some examples are the recycling of a specific item, water, air pollution, car emissions, LEED building certification, energy saving appliances, hospital or human waste, farming chemicals, etc.

 

Although the Chile course assignment specifically referenced environmental sustainability, Table 1 shows that 4/16 (25%) student papers did not examine the "planet" aspect of sustainability, while 9/16 (56%) included an economic focus and 9/16 addressed social sustai-nability issues. These results provide an interesting comparison to the Table 3 topic summary from the standard courses, in which only 30% of the student projects addressed either economic or social sustaina-bility, while 100% of the student projects addressed environmental sustainability—even though this dimension was neither specified nor required. One conclusion could be simply that these students did not follow the assignment instructions. A different conclusion—and our proposition—is that their personal experiences in Chile yielded a transformative experience, in that these students discerned other significant elements of sustainability beyond environmental concerns. While the sample is small and common method bias is present, we argue that these results do suggest that the study abroad experience encouraged students to adopt a broader view of sustainability and the triple bottom line of planet-profit-people.

Learning about Sustainability in Johannesburg

The second author also incorporated a sustainability dimension in her five-week study abroad trip to Johannesburg, South Africa. The method of inquiry differed somewhat in this setting, as students were formally assigned to a specific non-governmental organization (NGO) for their group projects. In addition, this longer residency required students to adjust to daily life in an unfamiliar country, and much time was spent informally exploring and comparing differences between their native culture and their new setting.

Students connected with one of five NGOs that they were charged to investigate and assist, in the format of an unstructured business service project. Prior to the students' arrival, each organization had submitted a list of specific desired deliverables, most of which were marketing tactics. The student groups spent five half days with their focal organizations, observing business practices, reviewing policies and data, and working towards a set of recommendations. To provide structure to this ambiguous business environment and to assist in analyzing the existing situation, students used a business plan template as a guideline.

Although a few environmental issues arose in their project analyses (predominantly a move to paperless transactions and communications), the primary foci of their formal written assignments were upon economic and social sustainability. Since the five NGOs were non-profits, depending heavily upon volunteer help and donor contributions, these two aspects dominated when assessing their continued viability and potential growth. Table 2 summarizes the NGOs studied, with their main sustainability foci. As shown, all five written student analyses included both social and economic dimensions, while three of the five also had elements of environmental sustainability.

 

Table 2. Sustainability Projects from South Africa Study Abroad Class (n= 5 projects)

 

The Johannesburg results may be skewed by the focus of the assignment (an organization with not-for-profit status), and the sample size (n=5) is small. Nonetheless, these outcomes do reinforce our findings from the Chile experience: student experiences in the novel environment of study abroad contribute to broader discernment and analysis in the sustainability domain.

Learning about Sustainability in a Regular Course

As discussed earlier, we also wanted to examine how our experiences with these international study courses compared with similar assignments in 'regular' courses. The first author has taught an MBA elective class about organizational change for over twenty years. Several years ago, she added a sustainability-focused assignment to the course requirements, as an illustration of an organizational change initiative. A brief description of the assignment is as follows:

Field Study ofa Strategic Change involving a Corporate Sustainability Initiative

This project is designed to allow your group to analyze a change situation involving sustainability, using the organizational change concepts and frameworks we will be using in class. The in-class presentations will also illustrate the variety of organizational development (OD) interventions being used by organizations to implement sustainability initiatives. In addition, the project will let you apply the research and data collection methods we will be studying.

To prepare the students for the project, the instructor provided a two-hour lecture and discussion module about sustainability, the triple bottom line, and metrics used to assess the net impact of sustaina-bility performance. Classroom lecture and dialogue emphasized the broad nature of sustainability, with many examples of initiatives in the three different domains of environmental, economic, and social sustainability.

Table 3 summarizes the project topic choices for four different sections of this course taught during the past four years. As shown, all 20 projects addressed a sustainability issue with an environmental dimension. Six of the 20 project topics (30%) also considered economic aspects of sustainability, while another 5/20 (25%) included social sustainability issues in their analysis. The sample size is small and limited to one instructor's courses, but the default choice seems clear: without a transforming experience, students 'think green' first when they consider sustainability.

 

Table 3. Sustainability Projects from 4 Standard MBA Classes (n= 20 projects)

 

Learning Outcomes

This paper explores how linking sustainability, study abroad, and the opportunity for deeper reflection may positively impact student learning about sustainability. Using observations and student projects from two MBA study trips (one to Santiago, Chile and one to Johannesburg, South Africa), we found that learning outcomes about the broad spectrum of sustainability issues may be enhanced through participating in the study abroad experience. Students experienced an enriching learning environment while immersed in another culture and country (Tellis, 2011; Schein, 2015), and through careful observation, they often unpeeled layers to reveal underlying causes beneath the surface. For example, in Johannesburg, students who witnessed people scavenging through trash, trying to salvage plastic and glass bottles to redeem for small amounts of cash, could easily connect environmental, economic, and social sustainability.

Critical thinking skills were also enhanced through the opportunity to visit a variety of business organizations, ranging from multinationals to entrepreneurs and traditional craft markets, to see firsthand the methods of sustainability at work. Compared to business students enrolled in regular classes, we argue that these students displayed deeper connections with economic, social, and environmental issues, as reflected both in their informal classroom discussions and their formal written assignments. This outcome supports the learning fostered by the Ignatian Pedagogy Paradigm of experience, reflection, and action (Beabout & Wilson, 2014).

As noted above, Tables 1 and 2 illustrate that in both the Chilean and South African classes, students chose a broad array of topics for their written papers. But almost all included at least two dimensions of the triple bottom line, compared to the predominantly environmental focus of the standard classes summarized in Table 3. In addition, those students who did focus upon environmental impact were also able to connect it with other related effects. For example, one student in the Chile course examined air pollution and its link to transportation, noting, "Santiago made a strategic choice to invest its infrastructure budget in building and strengthening its public transportation system, over building new roads." Another perceptive student explored the link between innovation and sustainability. She stated,

The world is looking to Chile's mineral resources to fuel growth and to support the tech[nology] industry. The question is whether Chile can use the economic engine from mining demand to create a sustainable, diversified economy to support its long-term political stability.

Similar student reactions were evident in South Africa. Students discussed the jump to cellular phone technology, smart phones, and 4G technology, at a level more advanced than the U.S., in a developing country that never had landlines for its telephone service. Another example: the class visited a private school in Soweto in the process of building a new facility projected to be completely off the electrical grid. The facility will use solar power hand pumps to extract water from its reservoir, geothermal heating and cooling, and hydroponic gardening to assure a supply of fresh food to the students and the local community. This advanced sustainability thinking is happening in one of the poorest areas of Johannesburg.

Indeed, the discovery that emerging markets such as Chile and South Africa may be ahead of the United States in implementing sustainabi-lity initiatives was an unexpected lesson learned for (potentially ethnocentric) American students. In Santiago, we saw office buildings that were not just LEED-certified but were truly green: covered with panels of native moss that served as natural insulation. In Johannesburg, the prevalence of solar energy for people's homes provided a concrete example of how major environmental initiatives may be rolled out at the individual level. The innovative mindset needed to move the sustainability agenda forward (see Nidumolu, Prahalad, & Rangaswami, 2009) may be especially suited to the rapid economic development of emerging nations. A recent global survey found that "Developing countries and emerging markets had the highest rate of innovation and profiting from sustainability" (MIT/Sloan, 2012).

Implications and Conclusion

Multi-cultural mindsets are critical to improving business practices and diversity awareness, both in students' home countries and abroad. According to Orahood, Kruze, and Pearson (2004), business students who study abroad are more open to international careers. This experience helps to strengthen their content knowledge and em-ployability. Peppas noted,

Globalization is here to stay, and companies across the world are realizing the importance of having employees with a global mindset. As companies cut costs, many provide little or no on-the-job training to hone employees' cross-border skills. It is thus the task of colleges and universities to prepare students to function and excel in the new and challenging global business environment of the 21st century (2005, p. 143).

Through widening their perspective on global business, students with study abroad experience may serve as constructive critics of cultures and business practices (Stephenson, 1999), including the sustaina-bility domain. As an illustration, when discussing higher education opportunities in Chile, one student observed,

[T]he greater concern is social sustainability, particularly in terms of equity and equal opportunity...the socioeconomic homogeneity of the [upper class only] university populace means that diverse viewpoints are not being shared, which has negative effects on both academic knowledge creation and practical knowledge transfer.

As Rimanoczy (2014) notes, developing a new sustainability mindset has a direct impact on shaping the next generation of leaders, and Schein's results (2015) provide further support for the impact of direct personal experiences on ecological worldviews.

By living and learning in a different country, students can experience facets of life abroad that would not otherwise be included in a standard course. By utilizing a "green" public transportation system, using electricity saving key cards in hotel rooms and being exposed to water shortages and power outages, students become more aware of sustainability in action. Reflecting on and learning to adapt to these daily examples of sustainability measures helps to integrate class content within the cultural context, with the potential for a transformative experience through the use of the IPP's experience—reflection—action framework. Dwyer's (2004) study demonstrated that study abroad may have a significant impact for students with respect to language ability, academic attainment, intercultural and personal development, and career choices. Most importantly, the study showed that the impact can be sustained over the long-term (50 years). Linking sustainability and study abroad is thus one means of bridging the gap between content and context, and helps students integrate these experiences for long-term learning and application. These experiences provide the opportunity to apply the potentially transformative experience, reflection, and action elements of Ignatian pedagogy.

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Submitted: August 9th 2016 / Approved: November 25th 2016

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