In the past week, I have had the great privilege of speaking to groups of students at Universidade Potiguar (UnP) in Natal and Mossoró, Brasil. I was invited by the staff of the UnP International Office (IO) to be part of their international calendar, in support of two of their four strategic pillars: Internationality and social responsibility (SR). I was so grateful for the IO’s organization, translation support, and hospitality during the week. They have become dear friends that I truly hope to encounter again!
My lecture, The Importance of Social Responsibility in Business Development, was delivered to more than 300 students and faculty in three translated lectures at three different UnP campuses. A fourth, more intimate, session was held with the English-speaking IO interns and staff. This was my favorite because the lack of a language barrier allowed me to be more dynamic and extemporaneous, and engage the students in more questions and discussion.
The hardest part of the trip has been the inability to have conversations with non-English speaking students. My Spanish knowledge was helpful but insufficient to have the kind of dialogue around sustainability that I would prefer. Nonetheless, it was obvious that some students were challenged and intrigued by the topic.
If I changed the way of thinking of even one student during this trip, it was worth it. For the most part, students were skeptical about business’ role in Social Responsibility (SR); however, they acknowledged the importance of it. In my sessions, I spoke of different approaches to SR, from reactionary legitimacy-seeking to firms who build SR into the very fabric of their being. I emphasized what this means for two highly relevant contexts for this audience. First, leading emerging markets (Brasil is the “B” in the famous BRIC term for the largest developing markets), will accelerate the depletion of natural resources as their economic development continues. Second, small to medium enterprises constitute the majority of firms and employment in Latin America (and other regions of the world), but, more importantly, small businesses are a prime source of innovation. As businesses and firms look for SR products, those who offer innovative and sustainable products and services will have great marketability and opportunity.
The students I spoke to represent the areas of business, law, international relations, and health sciences – key positions for the operationalization of SR into industry. I encouraged the students to believe they have the power to change the priority and place of SR in their nation; as consumers and employees they can make small decisions every day that lead to big change.