Professor Frances Westley
PHOTO: OWEN EGAN
Management for a better world
BRONWYN CHESTER | An innovative new program headquartered at McGill will soon be tutoring a unique type of management student -- people who are far more concerned about bettering society than about bettering their company's profit margins.
Thanks to the generosity of the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, the Faculty of Management, in partnership with the foundation, will soon be offering the country's only master of management degree to leaders in the voluntary sector.
Furthermore, the foundation has made every effort to see that all 40 students who are set to begin in the program next September have the means to do so. The foundation pays 75% of all costs (including travel), while the student's organization pays the remaining $8,000.
Leaders from such sectors as the arts, advocacy for social justice, rural development, the environment and health promotion qualify to study in the 18-month program.
"What about those organizations with values not in those two camps?" asks Westley. "What about making sure they shape the agenda as well?" She worries that in tough fiscal times, the political agenda tends to be dominated by economic concerns. Environmental worries and other issues tend to be shunted off to the sidelines when money is hard to find.
The idea for the program, says Westley, who developed it with nine module leaders (who hail from McGill, Concordia, McMaster, York and the universities of Calgary and Victoria), is "to get all those people from the sub-sector to talk about the greater issues, to enhance their leadership qualities."
The plan is to give leaders from the voluntary sector, people who are "value-driven," a pause in their work, where they may "get their heads above the horizon and figure out how to be better heard," says Westley.
She believes the program, by giving leaders a "boost of ideas, concepts and skills," has the potential to affect the sector for the coming 30 years.
She emphasizes that it's not so much the leadership of individual organizations that's missing, but that there's "a lack of cohesion or identification with belonging to a common sector -- it's a question of focus."
Like McGill's International Master's Program in Practicing Management, designed by management professor Henry Mintzberg and targeted at senior managers in businesses such as the Royal Bank, the program will operate by modules defined by "mindset."
Examples of these modules include "Transformation through self Ð the reflective mindset" and "Transformation through society Ð the societal/global mindset." The latter will be offered in Australia and India, "where sister and affiliated organizations are studied in-depth," reads the module description.
Why Australia? "Because it seems similar to Canada, yet the country has developed different solutions," explains Westley. "We're therefore hoping for an exchange so as to give a context and create links."
India, on the other hand, is something of a known quantity to the Faculty of Management -- an Indian university is one of the partner institutions in the IPPM. Westley is interested in how the approach to social transformation of the leader of India's independence, Mahatma Gandhi, has touched the country's voluntary sector.
It's expected that the program's students will be on the watch for strategies that have served their counterparts in these other countries well.
The program's modules are similar in many respects to modules designed for the IPPM with one noteworthy exception -- "Transformation through values Ð the ethical mindset." In a recent round of brainstorming involving Westley, who heads the module on the global mindset, and other module leaders, including management professors Nancy Adler, Michelle Buck and Nelson Phillips, it was decided to integrate that module into the other five modules rather than have it stand on its own. "We realized that the value added is in bringing ethics into all courses," says Westley.
Westley, whose field of expertise is organizations involved in sustained development and global social innovation, believes that due to the global, interrelated nature of so many problems "no one nation or organization can do anything about them." Forging international partnerships is key.
And she sees much to learn from older service-oriented organizations like the YMCA which have managed to strike a balance between remaining committed to their original goals and values while being flexible enough to change with the times. The Y also stands out for its ability to develop the structure and garner the resources it needed in order to remain viable.
Greenpeace, too, is an example of an organization -- activist-oriented, this time -- that has succeeded in retaining its value-driven nature and in establishing a stable structure. Westley considers Greenpeace's status as the world's most successful environmental organization no mean feat considering they "had to get established as a counter-establishment organization."
Westley believes we've got the know-how and resources to solve many of the world's woes "but the problem is in managing the process.
"We won't survive as a planet if we don't put the power of our understanding into the hands of those who care.
"I care about these problems," she continues. "One of my personal missions is to put management knowledge at the service of those organizations so problems may be solved."
Though publicity about the newly launched program has only just begun, there is already considerable interest being shown. Applicants for the initial 40 places (there will be a subsequent 40, then a final 40 more places at nine-month intervals over a total of three years) are both young and emerging leaders and among the better established, says Westley. She hopes for a good balance between different ages, types of organization and regions. On the latter point, Ontario will likely dominate as 40 per cent of CEOs in the voluntary sector are based either in Ottawa or in Toronto.
For Westley, being the "catalyst or integrator" for this new program has been a "very gratifying and exciting" experience. "The ideas just flow," she says, describing sessions with the other module leaders. "There are moments when you feel the exchange is greater than the sum of the parts.
"Seeing it all come together, I experience the synergy and the talent in the room. These are teachers who are doing this because they share a vision. This is an important contribution to society."