Bridging the Inclusive Business Talent Gap
How entrepreneurs, funders, educators and academics are investing in developing IB talent

Innovating for global responsibility

Innovating for global responsibility
The Sustainable Innovation MBA at the Grossman School of Business embodies a movement facilitated by the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative to transform management education

By Claire Sommer,  Associate Director Communications at GRLI and Stuart Hart, Grossman School of Business, University of Vermont.

In the recent book Questions are the Answer, author Hal Gregersen suggests this very thing. Likewise, this article highlights two ground-breaking initiatives that share this philosophy of asking and holding difficult questions to change the status quo. Our hope is that we will spark questions germane to bridging the talent gap in systemic ways for inclusive business. In our experience, through the two initiatives we will describe, exploring new questions creates space for previously unseen opportunities and possibilities to emerge.

First, we will share the story of the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative (GRLI), which facilitates the participant-driven Deans & Directors Cohort. The second is the work being pioneered at the Grossman School of Business at the University of Vermont’s one-year Sustainable Innovation MBA (SIMBA) program. The SIMBA leadership team is part of the Cohort.


SIMBA cohort group photo
From left to right: John North (GRLI), Prof. Stuart Hart (SIMBA), Dana Gulley (SIMBA alumna), Sanjay Sharma (SIMBA). Photo Credit: GRLI

GRLI’s Inquiry into Global Responsibility

Founded in 2005, the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative, or GRLI, is the result of the first organised relationship between the United Nations and business schools to address the question of how to develop a generation of globally responsible leaders. The GRLI’s foundation rests on the principles of Whole Person Learning, which sees the human being as existing in a network of relationships, interconnecting arrangements and interdependent systems. The GLRI’s guiding focus is on integrating the “Me, We, and All of Us” into living, learning and leading for Global Responsibility.

The GRLI has catalysed a number of ideas and initiatives including the 50+20 Agenda – Management Education for the World (2012), a blueprint of “what the world would look like if people and planet matters.” The Agenda was launched at the Rio+20 UN Summit on Sustainable Development and continues to influence and resonate today.

Today, the GRLI exists today as a partnering platform that holds a question: "What is Global Responsibility and how might we develop it in leadership and practice?” A few years ago, one of our partners suggested an answer in the form of a new question: “What if we co-created a safe space for business school deans who want to act as catalysts of change for their own institutions and across the higher-education landscape?” From there, the GRLI Deans & Directors Cohort was born.

Now in its third year, the Cohort operates like a participant-driven collaboratory (another GRLI-facilitated concept) and includes leaders from business schools in 14 countries. The team has already bridged institutional and disciplinary boundaries, opened new research avenues, started work on new centres and programmes, and developed several collective impact initiatives aimed at transforming management education. For more, see the February 2019 EFMD Global Focus article titled Results Oriented.

A Boundary-Breaking MBA

SIMBA logo

Which brings us to our next example—the one-year Sustainable Innovation MBA (SIMBA) program at the University of Vermont’s Grossman School of Business, ranked as the #1 Best Green MBA in 2019 by the Princeton Review.

As Stu explains, there certainly has been attention on innovation in the past 20-30 years in management education. But largely lacking are efforts to address underlying issues by asking “What could be, and what’s next?” It’s only very recently that there is traction around wholly transforming business education to address existential issues of climate change, poverty, and inequality.

The challenges we face cannot be addressed by adding a course here and a course there.

Instead, the SIMBA programme was built to fundamentally reinvent business education and the MBA degree from the foundation up. By “changing the horse instead of the saddlebags,” SIMBA seeks to prepare students to solve systemic, global challenges through the lens of enterprise and entrepreneurship. 

It was Grossman School of Business Dean Sanjay Sharma who was instrumental in pulling together people to work on a new vision of management education that grew into the 50+20 mission and agenda back in 2012. And indeed, it has been Dean Sharma’s courageous leadership that has ushered in the birth of an entirely new kind of business programme at the University of Vermont.

5020 Agenda Logo

Sometimes, it can take a while for visionary ideas to find the right people, place, and time to take hold—as the SIMBA team knows full well. Deans who want to do something different have to take fire. Transformational change isn’t ever easy and requires bold—and then consistent—action. That’s what Sanjay did, and even with favourable conditions he still took a lot of heat. It took guts to enable an experiment to get off the ground and steadfast commitment to ensure it survived long enough to succeed.

As GRLI Executive Director John North explains, “We’re not going to think our way into new ways of acting. We need to act our way into new ways of thinking.”

Sanjay and our team had a vision and way of thinking that has been allowed to evolve and develop by acting and iterating. Piloting allows you to make changes you can only imagine once you've taken the first step. It’s the same in business—CEOs need this kind of backbone to stand up to create the protective space that allows innovation to grow. 

We hope you’ve been inspired by learning more about the GRLI and the SIMBA programme. Both are breaking free of traditional institutional bounds to explore entirely new ideas of how we can live, learn, and lead together—fuelled by the practice of inquiry and the courage to explore. Indeed, the next generation of talent will need these traits to tackle the greatest challenges of our time.

Additional Resources:

About the Sustainable Innovation MBA:


Claire Sommer
As the GRLI's associate director for communications, Claire Sommer is an enthusiastic champion for Global Responsibility to help us achieve a world that works for all. Named a 2019 TeachSDGs Ambassador, she is the former director of AIM2Flourish.com, the world's first higher-education initiative for the UN Global Goals and business' role in achieving them. Claire authored the “Introducing the Global Goals” toolkit for employees to learn about the SDGs that was launched at the United Nations Global Compact Leaders Summit in September 2017.

Inspiring story

In Your Words

Entrepreneurs working in African countries offer a snapshot into what drives them to use business to solve problems in local communities.
Susann Tischendorf
Table of contents

graphic summary


A visual summary of the key challenges entrepreneurs need to consider when it comes to bridging the talent gap in inclusive business. Learn more about these aspects by reading this fifth edition of the newly developed online magazine on inclusive…



Chair of the CLUED-iN Editorial Committee, Caroline Ashley, sets the stage for this issue of the online magazine by offering her perspective on the type of talent that must be developed to grow and scale the inclusive business sector.

Caroline Ashley

featured story

In the wake of system-wide underinvestment in the talent gap, IB funders and practitioners are nonetheless innovating solutions

As Caroline Ashley explains in her Editorial, we do not yet understand the size and scope of the talent gap facing the inclusive business (IB) world. We do know that to stem the tide of global climate change, environmental degradation, and mass inequality, the IB sector needs to both grow and scale. With entrepreneurs and funders citing talent challenges—in terms of recruitment, training, and development—at every level of organizational growth, we ought to be investing in solving this problem.

Dana Gulley

Entrepreneurs and funders must address talent challenges to successfully scale

The CASE at Duke’s Erin Worsham and Mercy Corps Venture’s Amanda West preview talent insights from world’s leading social enterprises ahead of the Scaling Pathways report, which will be released in May 2019.

Talent challenges can inhibit growth, but solutions are possible

Talented managers are critical for small and growing businesses (SGBs), which are key actors in driving inclusive growth. However, finding and developing these managers can be especially difficult in emerging markets. Learn how the Argidius-ANDE Talent Challenge has led to real solutions.

Freely accessible online courses can help changemakers fill their skill gaps

+Acumen is keenly aware of the hard and soft skills that changemakers need to build and scale successful social enterprises. Through online courses focused on human-centred business, systems thinking, and unit economics, for example, thousands of entrepreneurs worldwide are filling their skill gaps.

Entrepreneurship training is broken. Now what?

Classroom-based training has proven limited in its impact on entrepreneurs, leading African Management Initiative to partner with researchers at MIT to develop a practice-based approach that is showing early signs of being effective in helping businesses to not only survive but thrive.

Enterprises need tools and frameworks to support talent development in base of the pyramid markets

Ted London recognises the need to focus on talent development to scale inclusive business models in base of the pyramid (BoP) markets. According to Ted, enterprises should focus on developing talent with humility, the skills needed for co-creation with the BoP and the capacity to productively engage with the development community.

A systematic approach is needed to overcome the talent gap

Essilor has been in the vision care industry since the industry’s inception. As the company focuses its attention on inclusive business models to serve the underserved, Hans shares his team’s lessons learned for recruitment and talent development at the base of the pyramid.

Diverse boardrooms mean diverse executive teams: Matching female talent with boards in Africa to address the gap

Marcia Ashong and her team have set out to overcome the systemic challenge of leadership ladders that look like pyramids for women across Africa—while women are represented well at the bottom, there are too few in leadership positions at the top.

LGT Venture Philanthropy tackled its portfolio’s talent gap with impact fellowhip programme

After identifying that their high-impact portfolio companies were all struggling to find the right talent, LGT Venture Philanthropy developed a fellowship programme to help bridge the gap. Moser suggests that entrepreneurs who are struggling with this same challenge should find investors and partners who can provide support.

Innovating for global responsibility

Sommer and Hart are focussed on transforming management education to develop the next generation of globally responsible leaders—which requires first asking fundamentally different questions and second taking courageous, bold action.

In Your Words

Entrepreneurs working in African countries offer a snapshot into what drives them to use business to solve problems in local communities.