Prof Sandra Waddock visits SA to meet with ALCRL staff

Posted on October 16, 2013

She has authored or co-authored more than 100 papers and ten books, including the award-winning The Difference Makers – How social and institutional entrepreneurs created the corporate responsibility movement, and the most recent Building the Responsible Enterprise with Andreas Rasche. She holds a doctorate in business administration, amongst numerous other qualifications and accolades.

For nearly 30 years Sandra has worked on the front lines of progressive economic and social thought, advocating and studying concepts such as corporate citizenship, responsibility and sustainability. She has collaborated with or studied under several pioneering individuals in the spheres of corporate responsibility, statistics, and systems thinking, including Henry Morgan, James Post and Sam Graves.

Over the coming weeks, Sandra will consult with Prof De Jongh and other ALCRL staff on integrated reporting, ethics, social issues and other aspects of responsible leadership. She is interested in learning more about the ALCRL's responsible leadership initiatives, particularly the Leadership for Africa project and the Biodiversity Project. She also taught a class in the Integrated Reporting programme.

One frequently revisited theme in Sandra’s work involves ‘wicked problems’. “A wicked problem is an intractable problem that has many dimensions, where several groups of people have different perspectives on how to solve it. Wicked problems are complex and messy; you can't put a Band-Aid on them. There is no ‘right’ answer, or a single answer. We have to approach and solve them collaboratively. In that sense, virtually every social problem is a wicked problem – while sustainability is called a ‘super-wicked problem’ because it’s exceptionally complex.”

Sandra believes that the concept of growth also qualifies as a wicked problem. “The problem with growth is growth. Human population on the planet has quadrupled since 1900 and we're pushing every ecological limit. Our exponential growth equates into exponential demand for resources. Growth is embedded in everything that we think about, including all our economic indicators such as interest from banks, company profits, and GDP. The concept has become an imperative that underpins our current economic and social systems. We need to rethink that and I don't think anyone has an answer yet. Growth is definitely a wicked problem – and suggesting alternatives is heresy to many.”

Sandra attended the 2012 Rio Sustainability Conference, which received a mixed response from the media and the public. “If you expected radical changes from a conference that big, that would probably be a bit optimistic. I've attended other UN conferences, and they are great forums for putting issues forward and making people aware of them. At Rio they created a resolution regarding management education, but putting forward concrete solutions that everybody would agree to is, I think, a nigh-on impossible task. While I don't think the conference was a failure, I also don't think the world is changing nearly as rapidly as it needs to.”

Will it take a crisis for our species to shift our mindset and implement meaningful change? “I hope not, but I'm afraid so. In the book The Great Disruption, the author Paul Gilding argues that humanity is incredibly and will rise to the occasion once there has been some kind of calamity. He believes we have the capacity to make a world that is truly sustainable rather than less unsustainable which, as ecologist John Eherenfeld points out, are two very different things.”

Sandra’s vast expertise derives from her wide range of interests. “I have an eclectic mind and find it difficult to stay focused on any aspect for an extended period of time,” she admits. “What I found is that about every ten years I make this transition, a major shift in focus. Lately I have been studying academics. I recently completed a manuscript for a book that examines 28 well-known academics, including Prof Derick de Jongh. I call them intellectual shamans – individuals who have a talent for healing, sense-making and connecting stuff. My current project is trying to figure out why.” Sandra gave a seminar on this project on 10 October 2013.

The ALCRL welcomes Sandra to South Africa, and looks forward to a fruitful exchange of knowledge and ideas.

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