Global Studies for Global leaders: Preparing for GlobalResponsibilities? A case for Business Schools By Bernard Sionneau

EFMD/UNGC – GRLI 4thInternational Meeting, 
Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), April2005
(Updated 2018-12-02)

The starting millennium has seen the World ensnared in issues of various kinds, the magnitude of which concerns all peoples[1]and territories. Economy, demography, development, ecology and security – these transnational issues have correlating incidences that affect the  whole planet. Confronted to their simultaneous impacts, current leaders, whether in politics or business, are now hard put dealing with some, while ignoring others. They have to embrace the “Global view”, an exercise which is not necessarily natural and may require an “intellectual evolution”grounded in an “academic revolution”.

Actually, as theafore-mentioned issues are global in scope and consequences, their identification and treatment require a mental prerequisite: that, for current or future leaders, of being able to grasp their “interconnectedness” and be in acapacity to replace them within a context which is wider than their professional preoccupations, in order to understand these issues’ origins and fathom their actual or possible consequences.

This exercise in “contextualization” is a fundamental step towards the “global view”. However,in the present academic setting, the reality of disciplinary segmentation and the ensuing compartmentalization of knowledge still make it “mission impossible” as it remains an exercise in “partial understanding”. This situation, in turn, has professional consequences.

If we take the case of business people, taught by the dominant paradigm that the “only business of business is business”, the prevailing trend among these populations is to limit the scope of their analyses to strictly financial or economic considerations. Abstracting the latter from their historical, ecological, social, political or psychological context, these professionals have been ill equipped to fathom the consequences that their incomplete assessments may have had on decision making. Academically provided with “partial curricula”that allow them to produce only “partial representations” of complex issues, they may involuntarily participate in the making of global crises the real causes of which they don’t understand, the responsibility in which they refuse to endorse, and the social or ecological consequences they are unable (or refuse) to see.

This analysis allows us to express the following formula: “partial training” produces “partial thinking” and generates “partial understanding”. Those elements, in turns, are obstacles to the tackling of issues that are not “partial”, but “global” in scope and consequences. They can be identified as the main determinants of “irresponsible decisions” the latter producing “global crises” that take every day a heavier toll on societies and the environment[2].

The subject cannot be left pending to the eventual materialization of “new layers of awareness” among leaders or populations that would motivate the advent of forces, strong enough to make things change. Were it to happen, this trend would not lessen the need for an education into “global thinking” which remains a prerequisite for identifying the causes and consequences of global challenges and deal with them in a responsible way.

Actually, any in-depth treatment of these global challenges requires, for those in charge, a capacity to integrate both “context” and “complex” into their operational reasoning:

  • “Context” firstly, because each professional decision should be thought within an intellectual space of speculation that does not isolate it but considers it in relation with its general environment (cultural, economic, political, technological, social, environmental).
  • “Complex”, secondly, because each professional decision should be considered as one dimension of a bigger “whole”(markets, territories, societies, the planet) and thus should be assessed not only by considering the relationships it entertains witht hat totality and its other dimensions at macro and micro levels, but also, by trying to consider the induced effects (risks/opportunities, uncertainty, bifurcations, etc.) these phenomena may generate on the “parts”and the “whole”.

Integrating“complex” and “context” into the education of leaders in order to enable them to grasp “globality” and ensure the anticipation and treatment of its  major dysfunctions, requires a“revolution” in academic curricula.

Not only does it point out to the necessary recognition that the actual system of education in leadership makes “specialists in partial thinking” poorly equipped to tackle global stakes (not a widely shared perception); but it also requires from academia and establishments of higher education that they started to encourage (in research and professional applications) “multi-” and even “trans-disciplinary approaches of social phenomena” where the compartmentalization of disciplines and knowledge would give way to their systematic conjugation.

Let us assume that this new formula into “global thinking”, strongly resisted until now, will materialize.

Several reasons can be given that should motivate business schools, more particularly, to broaden their curricula in order to integrate this reality.

As a matter of fact, if traditional classes in marketing, accounting, corporate finance, etc. are necessary steps to understand the basics of corporate life – as natural scions of “Management Sciences”, they are not meant to provide insights into the complex dynamics that shape the world and impact the global and local contexts of business units. Other scientific domains need then to be tapped that do not fit easily in business studies and business schools’ departments. They are, for the main ones:  Political Science, International Relations[3],Sociology and anthropology, Area studies, etc.

Economics occupies, here, a special place. Very often, the study of Macro-Economics is included in B. Schools curricula. However, part of the problem is that it tends to be presented as the main, if not the only “external” dimension worth considering in relation with corporate preoccupations. As a result, B. Schools students tend to reduce the corporate context (environment) of operations as exclusively economic and financial in essence. And when domestic or international crises occur (over debt, foreign outsourcing, territorial or wealth allocation, corruption, business misdemeanors, terrorism or ecological disasters, etc.) the same students are ill equipped to identify other primary and often interrelated variables of different nature (political, social, technological, etc.) that, together with economic and financial factors, may have an important role in their outbreak, as well as understand their impact on corporate operations, societies, the world.

As it goes, the present situation makes it difficult for B. School students to convert into executives and leaders able to deal responsibly with global challenges. Provided with a highly specialized but somehow reducing vision of their surroundings, they are not in a position to assess correctly the complex stakes (political, economic,social, technological, etc.) simultaneously associated with business operations and make decisions geared to those realities.

In order to deal with theseproblems, ESC Bordeaux, later called BeM – Bordeaux Management School, then KEDGE, chose, in 1989, to develop a series of specialized lectures and seminars designed to provide students with a comprehensive view of the corporate environment. For fifteen years (starting in 1990), a specific department was entrusted with this task. Formerly called “World Business and Issues” (Business & International Environment) its faculty pooled the resources of Economics, Political Science, International Relations, Sociology, Futures Studies  withManagement Sciences, with one goal in mind: try to avoid the pit of knowledge compartmentalization and provide students, during their initial phase of training (Pre-Master, M1 and M2 levels),with a “boosted toolbox” allowing them to delve into the complexity of global and local issues.

Obviously, the need to provide people with “a holistic understanding of the profound changes in the world” has been shared by other institutions o fhigher learning that are not necessarily involved in the “administration of business”.

Fred W. Riggs, at University of Hawaii (UH) was an active pioneer and practitioner of “Global Studies” and documented the leading contributions in the field. At University of Hawaii (UH) Riggs managed a pilot project in Global Studies. Involving, thanks to “distance learning tools”, teams of professors with different disciplinary and area studies background, he conceived a workshop (and developed ‘low-cost multi-disciplinary material’ with Distributed Learning technology) meant to provide students “with a broader-based understanding of the many causes and consequences of globalization as it affects their daily lives”.

If the above-mentioned initiative took place within the wider framework of a “Globalization Research Center” (UH) that obtained support from Congress to organize a 4- university network, other important universities have also created “global studies curricula” and “global studies research Centre”, namely: John Hopkins University with an Institute of Global Studies in Culture, Power and History, the University of California at Santa Barbara (USA) with a program called “Global and International Studies” (G&IS), the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, with a “Bachelor’s Degree in Global Studies”, the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign with a “Masters of Education in Global Studies, the “Centre for Global Studies” at the University of Victoria (Canada), The Centre for the Study of Global Governance at the London School of Economics or the “Globalization and Development Program” of the Warwick Graduate School (U.K), etc.

Some associations have also tried to answer the global challenge, using different approaches. The International Studies Association (ISA) was born in the U.S. “Founded in 1959, its more than 7,000 members span the globe – comprising academics, practitioners, policy experts, private sector workers and independent researchers, among others. The Association has long served as a central hub for the exchange of ideas and for networking and programmatic initiatives among those involved in the study, teaching and practice of International Studies.”,  In order to understand the world, its supporters look at its many parts and ask how they fit together. In contrast, the Global Studies Association (GSA), born in the U.K. in 1999 has opted for an opposite intellectual stance. Actually, its members have chosen to understand the world as a whole : “The Global Studies Association (GSA) is a multi-disciplinary scholarly association set up in order to address the vast social, political & economic transformations of global scope which are impacting upon the world today. The GSA provides a forum for scholars to collaborate & explore shared responses to such phenomenon, particularly in the context of globalisation. The commitment to multidisciplinarity & to the global context make the GSA unique in its aims & scope & thus offering its members invaluable contacts & connections. In addition, the thematic approach of the GSA allows interests which are not easily accommodated in single disciplinary associations to be fully recognised & encouraged. Thus individuals who share a common commitment to enhancing understanding of global life can find an intellectual home by working with others in the GSA”, . As to the Global Studies Consortium, its members seek to foster the growth and linkage of a large number of globalization and global studies research and teaching programs ( ). As explained in its mission statement : “The purposes of this consortium are to promote and facilitate graduate teaching programs in global studies and to foster cooperation among them. The consortium is open to any academic program in the world that offers a graduate M.A., M.Sc., M.Phil., or Ph.D. related to global studies. It includes programs that are transnational, transcultural, global/local, world systems, or cross area, and that are hospitable to interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches within the humanities and social sciences to global studies.” .

Some non-exhaustive information about “Global Studies”:

Fred W. Riggs, “Global Studies Manifesto”, in Globalizations, Vol. 1, N° 2, Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, December 2004, pp. 344-350.

John Hopkins, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, The Arrighi Center for Global Studies,

B.A. in Global Studies, Penn State Berks,

For the Master of Education in Global Studies, see Center for Global Studies at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, go to

Welcome to Global Studies at UCSB : For Santa Barabara Global & International Studies Program, go to

For      Warwick,        Centre for       the       Study   of         Globalisation and Regionalisation,         go        to .

For the Centre for Global Studies at the University of Victoria (Can.), go to

For a more exhaustive presentation of global studies resources in Canada, see “Provinces with Global and Globalization Studies Programs”:

British Columbia : British Columbia Global and Globalization Studies University Programs,

Manitoba : Manitoba Global and Globalization Studies University Programs,

Ontario: Ontario Global and Globalization Studies University Programs,

[1] People with an « s » refers, here, to groups of people from multiple ethnic, cultural, racial, or national backgrounds, translated as “les peuples” in French.  

[2] Cf. the articles posted on this site.

[3] Cf. Bernard Sionneau, Relations Internationales pour les Managers(Ouvrage numérique), Les Classiques des sciences sociales, Chicoutimi, Québec,2014, 187 p., avec une préface de Christian Dargnat, Directeur Général de BNPP Asset Management, Président de European Fund and Asset Management Association,  

Publié par dr. Bernard Sionneau

World Issues Specialist and company owner Former Senior Professor of International Relations and Strategic Studies (Kedge Business School, Bordeaux Ecole de Management, Ecole Supérieure de Commerce de Bordeaux)

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