Coming full circle? Sustainability and future-proof global recovery 19th ABIS Annual Colloquium, 24-25 November 2020

On 24-25 November 2020, ABIS convened its 19th Annual Colloquium during which speakers and participants engaged in panel discussions, keynote speeches and interactive sessions on the timely, overarching theme "Coming full circle? Sustainability and future-proof global recovery".

The Covid-19 outbreak has put sustainability into sharper focus than ever before. It has affected our daily lives, exposed the vulnerabilities across governments, industry, and the entire socio-economic system. It represents for many a true wake up call for urgent action, an unprecedented opportunity to move away from unmitigated growth at all costs and deliver a lasting balance between people, prosperity and our planetary boundaries.

Against this backdrop, the event aimed to discuss the potential of the Covid-19 crisis to be a watershed in shaping a sustainable future and a catalyst for more responsible actions at systemic, organizational and individual level.

Wondering about the meaning behind the picture in all our colloquium communication?

Beautiful images of the Effekt Tower in Denmark, offering a unique experience of a forest walk masterfully blending in the environment, accompanied us throughout the event. The crisis forced us to see how we have not come full circle yet on sustainability, but we are rather on a spiral accessing now higher levels of understanding on how we live and operate as businesses, business schools and communities.


The event targeted sustainability change agents in business, academia and NGOs – and anyone looking to be inspired and take an active role in shaping collective impacts on the environment, people and communities. We were pleased to:

  • have over 100 registrations
  • from which we welcomed 70 participants at the live event!
  • representing around 40 organizations...
  • ...and over 20 countries!

If you have missed the event, you can now find the session summaries, recordings and resources for further learning in the following pages.

Day 1 - 24 November

Panel discussion: “The role of business schools in the global recovery”

  • Moderator: Ivo Matser, CEO, ABIS
  • Abdullahi Alim, Global Shapers Community Manager, World Economic Forum
  • Mollie Painter, Professor of Ethics & Organization, Nottingham Business School NTU
  • Satu Teerikangas, Professor of Management and Organization, Turku School of Economics, University of Turku

After a welcome speech by Baback Yazdani, Professor and Executive Dean, Nottingham Business School, NTU and Chair of the Board of Directors, ABIS, the panel moderator Ivo Matser introduced the discussion topic. He shared that business schools should be the place for critical thinking and have the unique position to join efforts with corporates and be a safe space for transformations towards more sustainable pathways.

Satu Teerikangas presented her view on COVID-19 as a moment to stop and reflect about what we do and how we do it. Our collective mental mindset has shifted during the months of quarantine and it is bringing us the opportunity to build more meaningful futures. The role of business schools in this regard is more important than ever. The questions we have to ask ourselves are: what kind of paradigm are engaging with? Towards what future do we move? How do we enable change agents to make change happen? This is the moment to rethink current paradigms and theories and actively challenge the idea of continuous economic growth.

This is a call for thinking!

Mollie Painter shared that business schools have a fantastic opportunity to address and understand intersectionality by integrating interdisciplinarity: social and business responsibilities can work together to address local and global challenges, such as in the case of business and digital innovations addressing energy poverty or gender based violence around the world. Business schools still tend do think in silos and are committed to linear thinking. Intersectionality is a strategic approach that can help change this. Mollie also stated that sustainability does not happen in a political vacuum and business schools need to engage with socio-political dimensions. Business schools could also bring back into classroom the connection with nature and the environment. The institutions and campuses which allow these engagements are more likely to foster behavioral change.

Abdullahi Alim highlighted how this pandemic and its economic effects will disproportionally affect young generations. Young people will be impacted in their abilities to find a job, a home and settle down, which will have life-long consequences. While the focus in the WEF is on businesses, there is an interest in the role and future of increasingly conscious young people protesting for equality and for further actions to tackle climate change. As these teenagers transition into universities, they will further demand changes to structures that they will inherit. Business schools will need to evolve from a focus on elitism, prestige and a culture of fiscal conservatism. Social issues are generally unspoken realities in business schools. Furthermore, business schools still opt for being apolitical, however, the premise of free market is a political construct caused by political decisions with political consequences. Economy and businesses happen in a political context and, therefore even business schools should be repoliticised, addressing power play between businesses and governments, as power discrepancy explains the disfunction of economic outcomes. There is a need to actively rethink which kind of philosophy shapes teaching and the values shaping the worldview of students going into the market.

How do we create appetite for change?


Best Sustainability Teaching Practices

In early 2020, ABIS has collected responses to a Member Survey to define the network's current and future priorities. Sharing best practices and making high-quality teaching resources accessible to all, came as one of the top support needed to face current challenges.

In order to respond to this need and support our members and business education in general in stepping up their game, we collected innovative, high quality resources, cutting-edge business cases and the best pedagogical methods to teach sustainability in business schools. This initiative is designed to help our members to gain and access relevant insights to accelerate sustainability uptake, learning capacity and improve the development of more sustainable business education.

The call for best sustainability teaching practices launched this autumn generated great interest and, based on our selection criteria, ABIS selected 12 best practices which were presented by their authors at the Colloquium in 3 tracks:

  • Sustainability programmes – featured methodological and practical insights from a geographically and topically diverse sustainability programs
  • Creative Teaching Practices – showcased experimental and unconventional approaches in teaching sustainability in business schools
  • Business Cases and Industry Engagement - presented a variety of ways in which business cases and involvement of industry experts can support the effectiveness of sustainability teaching.

We would like to acknowledge the authors and thank them for their excellent work and presentations!

  • Kirsti Reitan Andersen, Esben Rahbek Gjerdrum Pedersen, Copenhagen Business School: Sustainable Fashion MOOC
  • Yury E. Blagov, Yulia N. Aray, GSOM Graduate School of Management, St. Petersburg: Teaching social entrepreneurship in business schools
  • Jan Beyne, Antwerp Management School: Global Leadership Skills Program
  • Panikos Georgallis, University of Amsterdam Business School: Sustainability Case-Based Debates
  • Lisa Gring-Pemble, Anne Magro, George Mason University: The Liberal Arts for Business Internship Program and Impact Fellows Program
  • Georges Hanot, Antwerp Management School: Effective Dispute Resolution as a Sustainable Value Driver
  • Rita Klapper, Amparo Merino, Manchester Metropolitan University: Holitistic and creative approach to training for sustainability
  • Hari Mann, Ashridge Business School: The use of design thinking in teaching sustainability
  • Joanna Radeke, Urs Müller, ESMT Berlin: Oatly teaching case: Scaling up sustainable business models
  • Sean Owens, Manchester Metropolitan University: Responsible Tourism teaching unit
  • Sally Randles, Manchester Metropolitan University: Sustainability, Technology, and Innovation Management
  • Monika Sonta, Kozminski University: The application of Visual Boards
  1. RECORDING: track Sustainability Programmes
  2. RECORDING: track Creative Teaching Practices
  3. RECORDING: track Business cases and industry engagement

Scenario Exploration System presentation

The session featured a presentation on versatile uses of the Scenario Exploration System - an innovative, interactive, future-oriented resource co-developed by ABIS and the European Commission with exceptional results in integrating sustainability and systemic thinking into teaching modules, training activities and relevant events. Workshops facilitated by ABIS staff are available to any organization, and are included in the membership benefits. Feel free to contact us, if you are interested to know more!

RECORDING Scenario Exploration System

Day 2 - 25 November

Opening Keynote: Could this crisis be preparing us for the future?

Day 2 of the Colloquium was kicked off with an introduction by Ivo Matser, CEO, ABIS, followed by Otto Scharmer, Senior Lecturer, Sloan School of Management MIT & Co-founder, Presencing Institute.

The speaker shared that, while sustainability is now mainstreaming, we see a lot of discussions and focus on reporting, which are not creating much action and change. In our current predicament, we need to be more humble and realistic, in fact we are the only species on earth who can transform the rules of our collective behaviour. The way how we have flattened the curve during the Covid-19 pandemic is our learning towards circularity: collective action matters and we can change by putting our full attention and intention on the topic. He further stated that a system cannot be understood unless it is changed, and it cannot be changed unless our own consciousness (or mindset) is transformed. To change our mindsets we need to have an open mind, open heart and open will. It is important to let go of old ways of doing things and accept new ones (letting GO and letting COME), which is precisely the opposite of amplifying doubt, hate and fear. To fight these elements and ease change we need to create humble leaderships, understand the essence of science and let the data talk to us. We can do so by:

  • Listening with humility
  • Building architectures of connection
  • Activating action confidence

Otto called for creating environments to allow people to experience their own agency and for massive investments in new learning infrastructures, new democratic infrastructures and new economic infrastructures. To sustain these new infrastructures we all need accessible transformation literacy.

RECORDING Opening keynote

Panel discussion: Exploring systemic, organizational, and individual resilience

  • Moderator: Karolina Sobczak, Knowledge Manager, ABIS
  • Laurent Bontoux, Member of the Cabinet of Vice President Maros Sefcovic, European Commission
  • Guy Janssens, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, Port of Antwerp
  • Nicola Millson, Co-founder, She Leads Change

Laurent Bontoux introduced the concept of resilience as a new compass for EU policy making. The premise is that resilience is not just a ability to bounce back, but also the ability to chart our own course, it is not static, but dynamic action to reach the future that we want. Resilience is multifaceted and complex, and exhibits socioeconomic, green, geopolitical and digital dimensions. The EU will use this concept to assess in a comprehensive way vulnerabilities, capacities and opportunities and to openly discuss how to move beyond GDP. The concept of resilience offers a shift away from resource efficiency, and COVID-19 showed how a single-minded focus on efficiency creates problems. An efficiency perspective makes one focus on the short term, but as soon as you take a resilience mindset, you need to think in the long term and to enforce long-term goals. But we need to take actions now and for that, we need to imagine a positive future for change to be successful.

We need to share a common positive vision of the future together

Guy Janssens shared how Port of Antwerp, the second largest port in Europe remained fully operational even in the most critical moments of the COVID-19 lockdown. They were able to do so by firstly gathering and securing all partners in supply chain. Then, a task force was created to monitor and share data to have a daily overview . The cultural element played a crucial role as all the dockers and service providers run the extra mile in difficult circumstances. It also played out in adoption of very strict safety procedures, avoidance close contacts and low rates of absenteeism. To ensure business continuity, setting up a contingency plan has been essential for a swift response. In this context, Guy Janssens mentioned that it is helpful to see that the role of the governments is gaining importance in ensuring systems resilience and evolution. For instance, the commitment of the EU to support a green recovery and sustainable future creates hope and helps direct change.

Nicola Millson offered her take on individual resilience as a sustainability professional supporting collective change and defined it as having the mindset that:

  • Anything can change
  • We need to give up control and stop thinking linear, while building learning capacity, understand the different futures that are possible and reflect on how we build them
  • Nothing is either good or bad. We have the opportunity to come up with new ideas and build adaptability instead of being reactive
  • Change is hard, but we need to keep reinforcing our new priorities and keep up the pressure

All three panelists agreed that we are stronger together and we need to address inequalities and put diversity at the centre of what we do. We need to build blocks of resilience - this is an opportunity to make change and to find ways to help everybody thrive.

Building blocks of resilience will help us survive the next wave that will be even bigger.

RECORDING: Exploring systemic, organizational and individual resilience

Panel discussion: Movements for change

  • Moderator: Satu Teerikangas, Professor of Management and Organization, Turku School of Economics, University of Turku
  • Adrie Heinsbroek, Principle Responsible Investment, NN Investment Partners
  • Stephanie Hussels, Director of the Bettany Centre for Entrepreneurship, Cranfield School of Management
  • Luea Ritter, Catalyst Lab & Learning Cycles Lead, Collaboratio Helvetica

Satu Teerikangas opened a thought-provoking and inspiring discussion by asking the speakers: "How can the COVID-19 crisis be transformed in an opportunity?"

Luea Ritter presented how the guiding framework of the 17 SDGs was used in the Nova Helvetia initiative, which created collaboration spaces for cross-sector dialogue, addressing systemic challenges and valuing diversity. The focus is on learning together. They are building an international movement to explore and understand the deep-root causes that provoked the situation that we currently are in. Specific sessions on different SDGs were created to focus on research and facts and, based on this, to reflect together on new narratives for the future. Luea mentioned "Our organization exists to bring the skill of dialogue in every part of society and to teach how to listen".

Adrie Heinsbroek shared his perspective on change from the financial sector, which impact is in financing the change and redirecting financial resources to make strategic change happen. But there is not only the need of finance for change, change in finance is also needed. In current times, it can no longer be only about finance, it has to also include values, a deeper connection to the reality of clients and sensitizing investors to new opportunities. In the finance industry, people tend to only look at figures and numbers, and it is a challenge to make people more aware of the broader context and gain new perspectives. That is why at NNIP they took their own responsibility to accelerate change, in particular through their Upside Down initiative launched in summer. They connected with various societal actors to learn about current development and promote change - academics, governments, NGOs, other investors and even competitors. "Without collaboration, there is no future" Adrie said.

We did not slow down, but speeded things up

Stephanie Hussels brought her experience at Cranfield School of Management of working with the SMEs - the backbone of the economy - during the Covid-19 pandemic, with the intention of not only helping them to survive, but also to scale up their businesses! Inspiration came from the "build back better" movement and was used to create a 3 stage process of the redesigned Business Growth Programme into BGP Response Programme:

  • Help now - addressing the immediate challenges with practical, actionable help
  • Help stabilise - helping to adapt to the “new normal” of running a business
  • Bounce forward - helping to set business up to succeed

The collaboration has brought together local businesses, alumni, policymakers and it is now a peer to peer network to learn from each other. Collaboration has not only helped businesses, but also the business school to develop products that the SMEs need. Stephanie concluded that "It can be surprising, but if you reach out, people do come back. People are more than happy to help and support one another".

Are we taught how to collaborate?

Recording: Movements for change

Resources for further use

In order to keep up with the objectives of the event, in this section we are sharing some useful resources and materials that our participants, members and any interested stakeholders are encouraged to access and use in their business, research and teaching practices:


We would like to thank our Steering Committee that provided us with very useful insights and helped us steer the goals and the programme in the right direction. Thank you to:

  • Mollie Painter, Professor of Ethics & Organization, Nottingham Business School NTU
  • Satu Teerikangas, Professor of Management and Organization, Turku School of Economics, University of Turku
  • Merjin Dols, Global Director of Open Innovation & Circular Economy for Food, Danone

We would also like to thank our partner Nottingham Business School, Nottingham Trent University for their continued support, which kindly offer to host the event at its premises. We look forward to the day when it will be possible again!

And lastly, the event couldn´t have happened without our excellent speakers and all the participants! Thank you!


We at ABIS are thrilled that the participants enjoyed this year´s theme. We were joined by many high-level speakers and the audience appreciated the positive energy and inspiration in a virtual setting. Here is what they shared with us!

"It was an honour from my side and I was inspired myself by the other speakers & panelists. Congratulations with the highly professional preparation & approach."

"It is very important for myself and all my colleagues at Manchester Metropolian to participate in a forum that is truly inspirational: at the forefront of thought leadership, internationally collaborative, and epitomises cross-sector partnership between academia, business, government and civil society as you demonstrated over the last two days. Thank you!"

"I really enjoyed it and it was wonderful to meet the rest of the panel and the ABIS team."

"The whole event was organised so professionally – congratulations!"

"I particularly found the presentation by Otto very inspiring as I am currently engaged in trying to change hearts and minds in Greater Manchester on Circular Economy and engage policy makers. Thank you!"

"The event allowed us to inspire ourselves about how to focus our academic and research projects"

See you soon!

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ABIS Admin