Note: this article is part of The Transatlantic Debate Blog series, which forms a conversation between Dr. Katrin Muff and Dr. Kathy Miller Perkins on business sustainability. Read the previous post here.
There is something hard and cold about borders and boundaries. Something exclusive, cutting-off and leaving out, separating the “us” and “them”. What if that was a way of operating that was simply outdated? Let us look at an alternative operating mode: one that builds on inclusion and cooperation and expresses itself through dilemmas and tensions, which need to be figured out, one step a time.
Taking up Kathy’s last month blog on borders and boundaries about the U.S., her topic resonates strongly with our current realities on this side of the Atlantic. Europe is currently facing a refugee crisis which points to geopolitical issues of significant scale and a complex range of problems, challenges, root causes, unintended consequences, tensions and more than anything moral dilemmas. The German “welcome culture” was loved for a short while and since has been heavily criticized, with borders having been reinforced in Southeastern Europe. We are looking very desperately for the one right approach to this problem, and I suggest that such a thing may simply not exist.
My limited understanding of the situation suggests that the face of Europe is about to be altered in deep ways and that we are in one of these moments in time, where we know that reality as we know it is no longer valid, yet it is unclear what is ahead of us. Fear may render us tense and worried about all we might have to lose and putting up borders an appropriate preventive action. Yet, if we acknowledge the human aspect of this and we consider the opportunity these additional people might bring to our culture, economies, communities, schools and families, many show a spontaneous reaction from the heart that is indeed welcoming and inclusive. It depends very much which emotion is stronger: love or fear? Again – what if there was no clear right answer and what if we had to deal with the tension between both of these emotions, recognizing the tensions many of us feel.
Looking at the Syria crisis from a macro perspective, we can wonder why the community of countries around the world has not acted earlier and why we are in this mess five years into a most ugly and bloody war. Right now, all eyes are on Presidents Obama and Putin and we are hoping that they will find a way to join forces in figuring out from the outside how to bring peace to this region. We may also wonder why the community of countries has failed to pay up the relatively small amount of money required to maintain the UN refugee camps in Syria’s neighbouring countries. With only 40% of the required funds paid up to date, the four million stranded refugees in these countries have indeed little to nothing to lose in attempting a very dangerous journey to Europe. Germany has put €6 billion aside to pay for its expected 100,000 refugees. This is roughly twice the amount of the unpaid funds of all rich countries to the local UN refugee camps. And that is just one country!
I was addressing Business School Lausanne graduates last Saturday at our annual graduation and discussed this issue with them. I pointed out to them that “if you take a look at the world right now, it becomes very clear that what the world needs more than anything is responsible actors. I am saying actors, not leaders – doers, not talkers. Leaders only in the sense of leading by example. Entrepreneurs, if you want. What we say at BSL is that entrepreneurship is above all an attitude – everybody can be an entrepreneur at any level of any organization.
In fact, I think we have three choices, when looking at the European refugee crisis:
First, we can point fingers and in the example of Syria highlight that Europe should have intervened in the Syrian war five years ago, or that UN member states should pay up the missing financial contributions to the UN High Commission of Refugees to support the refugee camps in the neighbouring countries of Syria that host 4 million refugees.
Or, secondly, we can emotionally distance ourselves and just disconnect from it all, somehow pretending this whole thing doesn’t concern us, and hoping the problem stops at our borders. We set our boundaries and exclude.
Or thirdly, we can attempt to figure out what we can do. And, clearly, this is the most difficult and challenging path. Any solution represents a moral dilemma and may bear more intended consequences than we imagine. There are no easy solutions to a highly complex problem. Yet, this is what the world of your and our future is made out of. Tensions and dilemmas of increasing complexity. To approach and solve these, we need the kinds of persons – actors and maybe leaders – that we dedicate our education at BSL for.
I invited our graduates to think themselves about the question that I am also asking myself:
“What can I do personally, what can we do institutionally at BSL and what can we do as a larger community of business educators?”
Let me share the little miracles we have managed to achieve just in the past three weeks. Starting from the largest of the above three levels, namely the community of business educators, we have managed to co-create and co-launch an unprecedented joined call of all global networks and agencies in business education, in conjunction with the UN Global Compact and the UN High Commission of Refugees, asking business school around the world to commit to action and to share their commitments on a global platform. All of that started just with a short email I had sent out to a group of right-placed friends on a Friday night. Listen here to the story.
One level down, at Business School Lausanne, we are working on ways to accommodate locally stranded refugees to start or continue their education as early as next February. The issue is complicated by the fact that we would like to accept refugees that have not yet received their visa (which can take several years) in order to help deal with the most critical integration phase – the first few months of arrival in a new country. For this, we need to receive approval from the Swiss Government. And, we need to override our entry criteria, as these refugees do not possess diplomas and transcripts that we would typically require. Not to mention that they might also require English language training and other competency-based support.
Last but not least, at an individual level, each of us has different options and opportunities. I have just recently read about three Dutch students and now young entrepreneurs, who have started within less than a week a free Airbnb-style initiative for refugees, called www.refugeehero.com. It matches those willing to host refugees in their homes with stranded refugees in need of accommodation.
I challenged our graduating students by asking them what each of their answer is to the question of what they can do? Themselves as individuals, in the organization they are or will be working, and in the community they will be living in? I reminded them of the values we had developed and lived with them. These are:
“be a positive force
have the courage to lead
be an entrepreneur
make responsible choices
be a professional
and: keep on learning: you don’t need to have all the answers – keep on welcoming change, be open to new things, remain curious and encourage others and yourself to keep asking the real questions…”
I closed my speech to them the same way I would like to end here:
“Dare to make a tough choice, and be prepared to stop, reflect and correct if you find out that a decision has not led you in the right direction. You don’t need to get it right every single time. But choose, take a stand, voice your opinion and trust your gut feeling. We need leaders who dare to be different, who dare to questions the status quo and who get the big picture of how to make this world a better place. Be part of the change that we need now, in these shaky and uncertain times.”