A Better World is Everyone’s Business

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It wasn’t until 1972, during a United Nations conference in Stockholm, that the nations of the world formally announced what was already self-evident to most—human activity was detrimentally impacting the environment, and in turn, threatening our future prosperity. Nearly 50 years on, it seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Perhaps the earth’s most essential forest, the Amazon is under tremendous threat from international economic and agricultural forces that are exchanging trees for pasture and cropland. Compounding matters are the pressures generated Local beekeepers Pilar Muravari and her husband Gabriel Caritimari, with Honey Bee Initiative Master Beekeeper German Perilla, sustainably extract honey from a nest of native stingless Melipona eburnea in Peru. by residents. Many local and indigenous communities, lacking better options, have turned to unsustainable, and environmentally damaging, income-generating activities such as logging, hunting, and fishing.

The combined effect is that the Amazon’s ability to shelter universally significant levels of biodiversity, regulate local and global hydrological cycles, and serve as a critically important sink for carbon dioxide are all imperiled. So too are the lives and livelihoods of those who depend on it for their survival.

In this challenge, the Business for a Better World Center (B4BW), through its Honey Bee Initiative (HBI), sees an opportunity to act with people, planet, and prosperity in mind to help change the fate of both an environment and its inhabitants.

Led by Germán Perilla, MAIS ’12, HBI is, of course, well known here on campus. Its expansion into the Amazon (Colombia and Perú specifically) highlights the initiative’s and the center’s fundamental ambition: making an impact globally, and at scale. By empowering communities through entrepreneurial beekeeping programs, B4BW has created sustainable economic opportunities for rural and indigenous communities. Importantly, the beehives are more lucrative endeavors than the extractive practices they are seeking to replace.

The effort has been well-received, and many program participants share the pride of Exiles Guerra, a local government leader in Perú, who observed that “The program is very important for the community...it is a new opportunity for all.” The work in Colombia has been so successful that it recently was selected as the 15th best overall social and environmental project in Latin America and the Caribbean by the Latinoamérica Verde, the largest social environmental festival in Latin America. Moving forward, HBI seeks to expand its impact by establishing a meliponiculture (study of stingless bees) school in Perú, taking the Colombia project nationwide, and using the HBI model in countries around the globe.

The success and global footprint of the Honey Bee Initiative serves as a template B4BW seeks to replicate. With a belief that a better world is everyone’s business, center leadership realize that as educators, we play a role in preparing the next generation to help reorient the business environment.

“Our goals are lofty,” says Lisa Gring-Pemble, co-executive director for B4BW. “We seek to lead a movement that will reshape business education so that it inspires students to act not just in the best interest of shareholders, but for the benefit of all stakeholders.”

Here in Virginia, the center sees its Impact Fellows program as one piece of that puzzle. Launched in Fall 2020, this signature two-year, cohort-based undergraduate program responds to the needs of first-generation students, and those from lower-income groups and who are underrepresented in business, by providing an immersive learning environment based on the United Nations Global Goals, with elements such as local and/or global field study and personalized mentoring. Additionally, the center is engaged in an audit of all School of Business courses, focused on what and how students are taught about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We then intend to develop an undergraduate concentration and a minor on the topic of responsible business.

In spring 2021, B4BW hosted the Ashoka U Exchange’s international conference bringing thought leaders, students, faculty, and foundation representatives to Mason’s campus for discussions around social innovation and responsible business. The center, its board members, and international partners share a focus on embedding the SDGs throughout business education, and creating educational programs and experiences to help students see, and visualize, how business can act as a force for good in the world.