Owen Skae. Picture: ROBERT TSHABALALA
Owen Skae. Picture: ROBERT TSHABALALA

The contribution of business schools often goes unappreciated, not just among the public but also in the academic community, says Rhodes Business School director Owen Skae.

Even some universities have misunderstood the role of their schools, he says, because they do not fit neatly into the usual academic format. At Rhodes, he says there is growing acknowledgment of the school’s contribution to the university and the broader community.

"Business schools have a unique mandate," he says. "They are a bridge between academia and the business environment. They aren’t just theoretical, they actually have to understand business. Many of their students are mature businesspeople, so schools have to know what they are talking about."

Rhodes Business School has a particular focus on sustainability in all its forms. That’s why Skae is comfortable with international calls for climate change to become an integral part of all business-related education — whether academic degree programmes like MBAs, or more general executive education.

"It’s been part of what we teach for 10 years," he says. "It should be on everyone’s radar."

He adds: "There’s this mistaken idea that climate change means global warming. That’s only the start. It’s also about resilience and supply chains and sustainability and everything else in business and society.

"Scientific evidence of climate change is irrefutable. We are living it in our own city, Makhanda. We live in a country that is water-stressed, we are still reliant on fossil fuels, we face droughts and cyclones, and Johannesburg has some of the most polluted groundwater on the planet. As business schools, we are duty-bound to ensure students — and companies — have integrated thinking in this environment."

That means taking a long-term view of the consequences of business activities. "There’s all this talk of fracking, of renewable energy," he says. "Have we given enough thought to the future impact on groundwater? Can we afford to contaminate it further? It’s no longer good enough to go in with good intentions and hope for the best. We can’t afford any more unintended consequences."

The government and the private sector must work together for a coherent approach to sustainability, Skae says. "We need consistency of thinking."