In a world no longer limited by geographic barriers, business schools must equip their graduates with a perfect understanding of global market perceptions and realities. While you have barriers diminishing on one hand, on the other hand different parts of the world are in different stages of development with different needs and challenges. For this reason, business schools should not become too isomorphic and standardized across the globe. The mission of business schools should not only depend on global trends but also on geographic location. Going forward, business schools should address global trends while responsibly contributing to the pressing socioeconomic issues relevant to their region. For example, using case studies and other teaching tools “imported” from the U.S. and Europe might not be adequate to address the very needs and challenges specific to emerging economies. In this respect, the American University in Cairo (AUC) School of Business launched El-Khazindar Business Research and Case Center in 2008 to produce and disseminate local business cases that provide business leaders with pertinent knowledge about the challenges and opportunities specific to the Arab region.
Unemployment is the most pressing challenge the Arab region is facing. A sustainable solution to unemployment is a well-directed entrepreneurship ecosystem. To this end, AUC School of Business launched the Center for Entrepreneurship mandated to educate citizens in the Arab region as to what entrepreneurship is and to infuse them with the desire to create and innovate. The school also houses the AUC Venture Lab, the first university-based incubator in Egypt, which translates technologies and innovations into commercially viable ventures, thereby contributing to economic development and job creation. The startups benefit from training and mentoring sessions and access to venture capitalists and angel investors. Despite the Venture Lab’s young age, it was recently recognized as one of the top five most promising university-based incubators in Africa by Sweden-based UBI-index—a notable honor and a strong indicator of AUC’s commitment to helping the region’s employment plight.
A major contributor to the high unemployment rates in the Arab region is the significant mismatch between the needs of the job market and the skills of graduates. Business schools should refrain from adopting a completely theoretical approach that focuses solely on functional areas. AUC School of Business uses a very practical approach of business education rooted in a liberal arts educational context that fosters critical thinking, creativity, emotional intelligence, and problem-solving skills. Moreover, business schools in the region should work on bridging the gap between business education and the corporate sector in order to maximize their students’ readiness to effectively join the business world. The strong ties between AUC School of Business and industry have not only been invaluable for enhancing the academic and executive education programs, research, and placements but also in boosting the school’s resources, including endowed professorships and funding bright students through scholarships and fellowships.
Business schools can also benefit their local communities in other ways. A backbone of the economy in the Arab region is family-owned businesses. These businesses account for about 50 percent of private sector employment and more than 80 percent of the total companies in the region. Business schools in the Arab region should help business-owning families better understand and navigate challenges, such as governance, succession plans, and innovation and entrepreneurial spirit, which will in turn have a positive impact on companies’ sustainability, longevity, and growth and consequently assist in the creation of long-lasting jobs.
If the popular uprisings in the Arab region have taught us one thing, it is that in an environment that focuses solely on maximizing shareholders’ value, we cannot expect individuals to care about such values as sustainability, nor about socioeconomic challenges the region is facing, including poverty, corruption, and inequality. Driven by its mission to develop responsible leaders, AUC School of Business became the Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) MENA Chapter Coordinator and an active member of prominent associations such as the Academy of Business in Society (ABIS), Egyptian Corporate Responsibility Center, and Bottom of the Pyramid Global Network. Furthermore, the AUC is the first university in the Arab region to publish its Carbon Footprint Report, which enables AUC not only to responsibly manage its impact but also to serves as a model encouraging others to address climate change.
AUC is innovating in other areas, as well. Although it is evident how technology can dramatically improve students’ learning experience, very little has been done in this respect in the Arab region. The use of technology is even more critical for business schools in politically unstable countries as they have been struggling to attract international faculty and students. Technology can be effectively utilized to break geographic barriers and foster an environment that includes participants from around the globe. Cloud-based teaching is one way to achieve this feat, as it allows students to form virtual teams and work on projects together with their counterparts in different parts of the world. AUC School of Business is the first in the Arab region to use this learning tool in a course that is an international collaboration between six universities in four continents. In addition, the Queen Rania Foundation for Education and Development has launched Edraak, a nonprofit platform that aims to develop MOOCs for the Arabic region (80 percent of whom are not English speakers). Edraak, which includes AUC among a select group of regional universities, offers more than 24 online courses in Arabic and includes over 130,000 learners of which 40 percent are female.
These achievements notwithstanding, as a result of the Arab Spring, many business schools in the region have been facing major challenges in recruiting international faculty and students. Also, many business schools have experienced significant budget cuts and reduction of academic and administrative staff members, courses, and in some cases even programs. Business schools that have built a strong reputation over the past decades have been successful in maintaining reasonable, steady growth in recruiting talented students and highly qualified faculty, despite the significant challenges. During its 60 years of history, AUC School of Business has witnessed and withstood numerous changes. The foremost accomplishment is the triple-crown accreditation achieved in 2014, making AUC School of Business the first school in the Arab region to achieve AACSB, AMBA, and EQUIS accreditations. With these seals of high quality, the school is equipped to face any new challenges that may arise and will continue to be a leading educator and partner in the Arab region.
Karim Seghir is the Dean of School of Business, The American University in Cairo