Yesterday marked the launch of a brand new and very different type of research centre at UCD College of Business. The UCD Centre for Business and Society (CeBaS) aims to be a globally-recognised inter-disciplinary research centre focusing on all aspects of business and society. Among its goals are to encourage research that helps to develop responsible business practices and build a better society; engage with business, government, NGO, consumer and other academic communities to inform responsible business practice as well as to foster inclusion and collaboration; and to celebrate a diversity of research approaches, theories, philosophies, methods, voices and issues within the business and society field.
"We are really excited about it," says CeBaS director Prof Andy Prothero. "It is the only research centre of its kind in Ireland and is the largest centre in the UCD College of Business. We have more than 45 members in the centre already. When we originally came up with the idea for the centre we thought it would be just three of us. To have over 40 people is beyond our imagination."
The centre has its genesis in a conversation between Prothero and her colleagues and co-directors Prof Donna Marshall and Dr Colm McLaughlin. "We talked about the research we were doing around sustainability and we realised that there was lots of research going on in the school without others being aware of it. We realised we had a critical mass of research in the area without knowing about it. And the research had been going on for quite a long time."
This was in the wake of the financial crash when there was heightened awareness of the role of business in society and they need to hold it accountable for its activities.
The new centre will cover a wide field. “We are quite ambitious in what we hope to do,” says Prof Marshall. “We see ourselves being open to all stakeholders and society and not just to companies. Companies are important and so is sustainable and ethical management practice and we will be looking at that. But we will also take a much wider view and will be working with the NGO community and connecting with other people who might be involved in this. As researchers, we want to make a contribution to the world.”
One way these worlds will come together is through a course on responsible business practice which they hope to run. “We are hoping to run an executive education programme in that area. It will be slightly different from to other executive education courses in that we will bring in the non-traditional world as well. It won’t just be for chief executives of large companies, we will include NGOs and SMEs. Trade unions are hugely important stakeholders and are not recognised by traditional business schools. We want to have them on board as well.”
The researchers at the centre will not confine their activities to the UCD College of Business. “We will look outside as well,” says Prof Prothero. “Donna and I are also going to work with the new SFI funded Beacon bioenergy research centre. This is a very exciting and we would like to see Ireland become a global player in the bioeconomy. We are trying to create a global network with Ireland at its centre to bring together the various pieces of innovative research which are happening around the world in this area.”
Another research project, backed by the Irish Research Council, which they are engaged in is focused on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. "We are collaborating with the Law School on a project which looks at financing the Sustainable Development Goals," says Marshall. "We also want to get involved with the Government in this area. The Government has done some brilliant things with initiatives like Origin Green but it can go much further in areas like the bioeconomy and the sustainable development goals."
The type of approach to be taken by CeBaS was in evidence at its launch event which featured a panel discussion entitled The Difficult Conversation. "We will be holding events like this quite frequently," Prothero explains. "We want to tackle difficult and relevant topics for business and society as a critical friend."
The launch event was chaired by UCD professor of accountancy Eamonn Walsh and heard contributions on corporation tax from Sorley McCaughey of Christian Aid Ireland, Cora O'Brien of the Irish Tax Institute, Feargal O'Rourke of PWC, and OECD deputy director Grace Perez-Navarro.
“This is a topic that is often discussed in very black and white terms but it’s much more nuanced than that,” she adds. “We want to create a dialogue which will examine those nuances and hear the different points of view. The panel brought different perspectives to the topic and that’s what we hope to do at CeBaS. Businesses are doing a lot of positive things in their approach to society and we want to support them in that. We also want to be challenging. We are here to help but we will stick our heads above the parapet and call things to account when it is necessary.”