‘Impact’ is central

‘Impact’ is central

From historical lessons of nuclear power to better handling of refugee crises, impact on real-world issues is a defining benchmark for business education in the 21st Century.

What should be the focus of a business school? While it can satisfy curiosity to read “fundamental research” that explains aspects of the world that are far from daily experience (and this suits some academic disciplines), business schools should instead focus on work that is informed by and relevant to real organisations – in other words, on impact that really matters.

We say at Cambridge Judge Business School that we “leverage the power of academia for real-world impact” – and recent developments have shown this to be true not just for our faculty.

We were delighted this summer when three of our people were selected as recipients of the annual Vice-Chancellor’s Awards at the University of Cambridge: Professor Elroy Dimson of the Newton Centre for Endowment Asset Management won the Impact Award based on his research on “active ownership” by asset owners, while Dr Neil Stott and Belinda Bell won the Public Engagement with Research Award for their work at Cambridge Social Ventures, part of the School’s Cambridge Centre for Social Innovation.

The School’s own Sandra Dawson Research Impact Awards, reflecting the effect of research on non-academic stakeholders, were awarded this year to Professor Elroy Dimson for his “active ownership” research and to Dr Simon Taylor for his research on the analytical history of nuclear power in Britain.

We’re equally delighted that the translation of academia to the real world doesn’t stop with our faculty. Just this summer alone, the work of three of our PhD students on nagging real-world issues won prestigious recognition.

  • The start-up venture Simprints, co-founded by our PhD graduate Toby Norman, was awarded a $2 million “Transition to Scale” innovation grant from Saving Lives at Birth, an initiative funded by the Gates Foundation and other donors, to scale up a maternal healthcare programme in Bangladesh. (Just 15 grants were awarded out of 550 applications.) Simprints, which uses advanced fingerprinting technology to help deliver healthcare to 1.1 billion people in the developing world with no formal identification, was one of the first startups supported by the Accelerate Cambridge programme at the School’s Entrepreneurship Centre.
  • Laura Claus, a PhD candidate at Cambridge Judge Business School, won the Organization and Management Theory Best International Paper and the Carolyn Dexter Award from the Academy of Management, for a research paper on the challenges facing social enterprises in developing countries. Laura’s work has revolved around social innovation – involving travel to Tanzania, Indonesia and Nigeria – examining, in conjunction with Unicef, how organisations can work alongside social activists to drive social change and enhance the voice of children in emerging countries.
  • Another of our PhD students, Corinna Frey, won the Best Student Paper Award of the Academy of Management’s Organizational Communications and Information Systems division, for her research with Professor Michael Barrett on the challenges in accounting faced by humanitarian organisations dealing with refugee crises. Corinna has researched global crises in Rwanda, Lebanon, India and South Africa, and has written about how organisations such as the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, deal with the loss of institutional memory owing to constant personnel rotations in dangerous areas.

What all these examples have in common is a desire by our researchers to make a real difference to solve on-the-ground problems or enhance understanding of a real-world situation.

By allowing health professionals to access medical histories through fingerprints, Simprints hopes to combat disease and malnutrition across the developing world – and make a dent in the 303,000 maternal deaths, 2.7 million neonatal deaths, and 2.6 million stillbirths that occur each year around the world. The Academy of Management winning papers seek to identify why social enterprises may fail in developing countries despite promising conditions and initial success, and to foster an appreciation of accountability among international aid agencies to make crisis response more effective.

Societal impact has been a key goal of Cambridge Judge since its founding more than a quarter century ago, and we were pleased by our “impact” showing in the most recent Research Excellence Framework (REF) by the UK government. A leading 84 per cent of our submissions received the top ranking (“world-leading in terms of originality, significance and rigour”) for “impact” – defined as “an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia.”

The University of Cambridge’s mission is to “contribute to society through education, research and learning at the highest level of excellence” – and at Cambridge Judge we pursue this mission through research and teaching operating in tandem, informing each other, rather than performing solo.

We term our approach “Deep Engagement”: this is a virtuous circle of engagement with students, organisations and others who can provide innovative insights; they receive unique solutions and a transformative impact; and the solutions in turn inform our teaching and research in ways that existing knowledge could not.

And that’s an impact worth striving for.

Would you like to comment?