The role of philosophy of education for professional educators is that they have to know all along the way what that big picture or the end goal is that the students have to work towards so that they can guide them through the process before turning them loose in the world.
As educators, you would want the students to do particular things that make their lives meaningful and significant. As fellow humans, you would want the students to understand their lives in a philosophical way and how they fit into the big picture.
ALTIS is the School of Sustainable Management of the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, one of the most prestigious Italian universities – with five campuses across the country and a 100-year history – as well as the largest Catholic university in Europe.
The Milan, Italy-based ALTIS Università Cattolica School of Sustainable Management was conceived by Professor Mario Molteni and the former Rector, Professor Lorenzo Ornaghi, with the philosophy that schools and institutions should take the charge in reshaping the society.
The School stemmed from this historical institution in the early 2000s, focusing on responsible management and entrepreneurship. The values of sustainability, business ethics and social and environmental responsibility are disseminated through a combination of training programmes (Masters’ and short courses), avant-garde research activity and consultancy services.
ALTIS is committed to developing new knowledge and contributing to the academic and policy debate on a sustainable approach to entrepreneurship and management. Its final goal is to promote the full integration of principles of shared value creation and impact measurement in the strategies, governance and management of profit and non-profit organisations, as well as in the public sector.
The notion of CSR (corporate social responsibility) dates back to the mid-20th century, but it recently became relevant to companies. The European Union acknowledged this concept in 1993, by publishing the “White Paper on growth, competitiveness, and employment”. The importance of sustainable development was also affirmed during Lisbon’s European Council in 2000, and shortly after it was included in the agenda of the EU Member States. One of the early adopters was Italy, which has actively implemented the EU’s guidelines on sustainability since 2003.
The School was established in those very years when Italian companies still lacked a thorough understanding of what sustainability was and why it was essential for their business and the wellbeing of their territory and communities. For this reason, ALTIS is committed to creating plenty of learning and networking opportunities aimed at associating two concepts: then said ‘social and environmental sustainability’ and ‘competitive advantage’.
It stressed the importance of measuring the impacts of a business as a way to better evaluate its outcomes and optimise the inner workings, focusing on the creation of shared value and the involvement of all relevant stakeholders (from the suppliers to the final customers or clients).
That was the core concept of the first training programme ever designed by the School: the executive course Professione CSR (literally, “the profession of CSR”), which later changed its name into Professione Sostenibilità. The recent shift onto the term “sustainability”, is due to the fact that what is associated with sustainable practices is gradually changing and expanding from the corporate world into other sectors and realms of meaning. Through this course, several hundreds of managers have been trained and taught how to integrate sustainability into their companies’ mission, vision and corporate strategies.
Being the Trendsetters
Looking back, resistance to change was one of the biggest challenges that the School had to face in its early days, and it still is in some regards. Traditional business thinking continues to prevail on innovation-oriented approaches in many Italian sectors of economic activity. However, more and more Italian companies have been integrating the principles of sustainability into their mission, vision and corporate strategies, and ALTIS contributed largely to this process.
Over the years, thanks to the prestigious name of the Università Cattolica and the progressive creation of a solid team of professionals, ALTIS has been acknowledged as a reference point for those who want to learn about sustainability and receive qualified guidance on how to implement its principles.
ALTIS’ areas of activity (Research – Education – Consulting) are developed with an approach of crossfertilisation: researchers, lecturers and consultants collaborate to keep the content of papers, courses and consultancy projects up-to-date and close to the real needs of its beneficiaries and the markets. For example, the School has been one of the first academic institutions in Italy to focus on sustainable finance.
ALTIS’ researchers have been monitoring the developments of this phenomenon that has been gaining interest in Europe, as confirmed by the steady growth of sustainable investments (green, climate, social and sustainability bonds) and the recent regulations passed by the institutions of the European Union, which are laying the foundations for a Green Bond Standard – a taxonomy for sustainable activities, and rules on sustainability-related disclosure. In response to this new trend, the School added to its curriculum some training programmes meant to provide new competencies for a changing world, such as an ‘executive course’ in sustainable finance for professionals and Italy’s first “Master’s in Finance” with a specific focus on sustainable finance.
Moreover, the consultancy team began offering services for financial institutions and investors that need guidance to effectively integrate ESG (environmental, social and corporate governance) criteria in the investment choices and define impact investing strategies, as well as for big corporations and SMEs that need to measure and report social, environmental and governance-related performances to improve their ESG rating and become more attractive to investors.
The Academic Rollout
Regarding the education area, ALTIS offers a growing number of post-graduate Masters, MBAs, and training programmes addressed to a variety of beneficiaries: executives from public administrations and non-profit organisations, companies and schools. All of them impart to various extents valuable notions and practices of corporate responsibility, and economic, environmental and social sustainability. Some are more traditional, such as the Executive Course in Management Control or the Executive Master’s in Strategic Development of SMEs.
However, they update their contents regularly in accordance with the latest trends and market needs and introduce notions of sustainability in professions that are generally considered untouched by it, as in the case of controllers and auditors.
Other programmes address the need for new professional figures, such as the aforementioned Executive Course Professione Sostenibilità, or the Executive MBA that combines managerial skills with a sustainability mindset, and the Master’s in Sustainable Business Administration or the above-mentioned Master’s in Sustainable Finance, both of which integrate sustainability principles in all teachings. The teaching language is Italian; however, the School’s curriculum includes an international programme that is taught entirely in English – the Master’s in Strategic Management for Global Business, which provides the students with the ability to identify the strategic drivers of long-term success of a company, recognize the challenges and opportunities of the international economy, and turn them into sound, innovative and sustainable business opportunities. (altis.unicatt.it/smgb)
Thanks to the synergy among the three areas of activity, the students also benefit from both a theoretical and practical perspective on their specific field of study. They may meet managers and experts from leading corporations, gain first-hand experience by working on tailor-made consultancy projects for real companies, as well as keep an eye on the avant-garde findings of national and foreign academicians, for example by participating in seminars and events organised by the university, or even international conferences, such as the Internal Social Innovation Research Conference (ISIRC) that will be co-hosted by ALTIS in September 2021.
On the other hand, organisations may access a selected pool of talents, co-create projects and events, and support the realisation of customised researches with a practical application.
Crafting a positive change environment
As it creates a positive environment that encourages the exchange of best practices and nurtures the entrepreneurial spirit, over the years ALTIS has activated initiatives and projects that later became fully independent. An example is the E4Impact Foundation: it all started with a training programme for African impact entrepreneurs, that took place in Rome in 2005.
To have an even greater impact on the African entrepreneurial ecosystem, in 2010, the programme was moved to Africa: the first MBA in ‘Impact Entrepreneurship’ was inaugurated at the Tangaza University College in Kenya. Over the following years, due to the success of the first on-site editions, similar MBAs were started in other countries of the continent, in partnership with local higher education institutions (https://e4impact.org/).
In 2015, the project turned into an independent Foundation that organises MBAs in collaboration with universities located in 16 African countries, and also supports Italian companies that are looking into expanding their business in the continent. In 2018, the E4Impact Foundation launched a ‘business accelerator’ in Nairobi, through funding support from the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation and ENI – the multinational oil and gas company.
The accelerator provides new businesses in Africa with training, connections with local investors and international companies, seed funding, ICT and satellite communication services, and office space. Around 40 enterprises have been accelerated and five have started working with Italian or European companies. Overall, the programme has raised about 1.30 million euros of investments.
Another instance of a successful initiative is the CSR Manager Network, the first community of sustainability managers in Italy that was kick-started with the students of the ALTIS’ long-running training programme addressed to sustainability professionals (Professione Sostenibilità), at a time when this was not a recognised profession and there was not an official framework regarding their duties, competencies and position in the company’s organizational chart.
In continuity with this effort, in 2021 the Network along with ALTIS inaugurated a collaboration with the UNI Ente Italiano di Normazione – the Italian organisation for standardisation, to create a national standard on the requirements for the profession and thus achieve its institutionalisation.
The Network is under ALTIS’ Scientific Direction and is strongly committed to raising awareness on the professions of sustainability and strengthening the ties among this category of professionals and other companies and organisations, through events, research and networking opportunities. Since 2005, the School has contributed to the dissemination of principles for a sustainability mindset within the current generation of Italian managers and professionals.
UNI – Ente Italiano di Nomerazoine had recognized the training programme “Professione sostenibilità” as the Italian course which can adequately train sustainability managers.
ALTIS has also formed several partnerships based on mutual exchange of knowledge and best practices. Today, its extensive network counts numerous SMEs as well as multinational companies such as Allianz, AON, Danone, EY, KPMG, Medtronic, Randstad, Samsung, and Vodafone. It also collaborates with many higher education institutions, in Italy and abroad, which allowed its PhD candidates and researchers to access fellowships and new research opportunities.
Through the E4Impact Foundation, it has built relationships within almost all African countries, strengthened with the creation of the “E4Impact Alliance”. Launched in 2019, it is an initiative aimed at creating the largest pan-African community of universities with a recognized brand that promotes impact entrepreneurship across the continent and beyond.
Moreover, ALTIS enjoys the membership status in many renowned associations that promote research, training and advocacy activities aimed at guiding people and businesses towards a model for a sustainable society. Some examples are: Association for Research on Non-profit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA), European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD), Global Network for Corporate Citizenship (GNCC), International Society for Third-Sector Research (ISTR), Non-profit Academic Centers Council (N.A.C.C.), Principle For Responsible Management Education (PRME), Global Compact, The Academy of Business in Society (ABIS) and Social Value Italia, the association that promotes social impact measurement.
Endowing responsibility through education across the world
ALTIS was born with an international vocation, and since its early days, launched international projects in other continents as well. It exported the Italian entrepreneurial model, and especially the best practices from its industrial clusters, to foreign countries, with the support of local organisations to reach out to entrepreneurs of SMEs.
In the effort of facilitating knowledge transfer, it has designed and executed custom training programmes in America (Brazil, Mexico and Peru), Eastern Europe (Albania), the Middle East (notably, Bethany, less than two miles from Jerusalem), and Asia (Myanmar, Pakistan and India).
One of the longest-running collaborations is the one with the SEBRAE network, the main organisation promoting competitiveness and sustainable development among local SMEs in Brazil. It all started in 2005, with a small training programme on “Innovative policies for the development of industrial districts”, which paved the way to other courses for top and middle managers in the south of Brazil and annual visits to the top-tier companies of the industrial districts in the North of Italy.
Empowering individuals and organisations Other than sustainable finance, the School’s collaborators hold academic and practical expertise in various areas of sustainability, such as strategic sustainable management, social impact measurement and non-financial reporting, enterprise competitiveness, social innovation and impact entrepreneurship.
The beneficiaries belong to different sectors, ranging from the public administration and large institutions to private companies, non-profit organisations and schools. The work is based on principles of continuous innovation and knowledge transfer: it is not limited to teaching notions and skills, but strives to empower those who embark on this journey, by making them fully autonomous and competent on the matter by the end of it.
For these reasons, ALTIS generates a real impact on individuals and organisations, who, in turn, become ambassadors of the principles of corporate responsibility and sustainable management.
The Indomitable Leader committed to Transformation
The idea at the basis of ALTIS, a ‘school of sustainable management’, was conceived by Professor Mario Molteni in the early 2000s. At that time, CSR was just beginning to raise interest in Italy, in the wake of the international debate.
“With ALTIS,” explains Molteni, “we made a bet on the fact that CSR represented a key challenge to foster the development of a fairer and more equitable society. Today, the growing attention and the economic and political actions towards sustainability prove that we had a good intuition.”
Professor Molteni is a Full Professor of ‘corporate strategy’ at the Università Cattolica. He has dedicated his academic career to combine corporate strategy and sustainability. In the 1990s, he was the Director of ISVI (Institute for Business Values), which he led until 2008. In the meantime, within the academic environment, he laid the foundations of ALTIS and promoted the creation of the CSR Manager Network – the Italian Association for sustainability managers and professionals.
In 2015, he handed over the role of ALTIS’ Director to Professor Vito Moramarco, in order to focus entirely on E4Impact, a project created inside ALTIS to foster impact entrepreneurship in Africa. The initiative later became a Foundation, acknowledged as an official spin-off of the Università Cattolica, and received the support of a group of primary Italian corporations.
Because of his commitment to empowering African impact entrepreneurs through the training programmes developed by the E4Impact Foundation, he was nominated ‘Senior Ashoka Fellow’ in 2015. As stated in the reasons for the award, Professor Molteni launched this initiative because he realised that: “a dynamic entrepreneurial system is fundamental to sustain the economies of Africa, particularly due to the significant role that entrepreneurs play in the job creation process. Moreover, institutions of higher learning have a critical role to play in developing such entrepreneurial systems, particularly through training of local entrepreneurs,” as he explains.
The ALTIS-E4Impact’s MBAs are full-fledged university degree programmes of the Università Cattolica offered in partnership with African universities. Through such partnerships, these local institutions become as competitive as their international counterparts and are able to attract the country’s brightest minds, thus reducing the ‘brain drain’ and training new entrepreneurs who may come up with businesses that address the most pressing issues, such as youth unemployment (https://e4impact.org/).
Molteni’s commitment and his extensive list of publications on corporate strategy, entrepreneurship, and CSR have inspired many young academicians and students to further pursue the study of such topics.
Adapting to uncertainty
The School’s resilience and adaptability were of great relevance at the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. In a matter of days, academic tutors and professors rearranged their calendars and turned a part of their teachings into videos or live streaming lessons.
Meanwhile, the Università Cattolica reinforced its digital tools, to guarantee access to a virtual classroom to all students. The first tool is Blackboard – the university’s Learning System Management (LMS) platform, which gives access to videos, study materials and a forum for discussions. The second is Collaborate, a tool for interactive lectures. Moreover, the students were warmly invited to regularly hold online study sessions and meetings to work on their group projects.
Thanks to these tools, the university has created ‘a virtual classroom as wide as the country’, which keeps the students united, although at a distance. In the past months, they have been sharing on social media their everyday life and this strengthened their sense of belonging to the university’s community. ALTIS’ personnel quickly shifted to a fully Professor Mario Molteni’s commitment and his extensive list of publications on corporate strategy, entrepreneurship, and CSR have inspired many young academicians and students to further pursue the study of such topics remote working style, and have been seamlessly managing the everyday activities.
Since the start of the pandemic in February 2020, the School launched new online-only courses, welcomed incoming students remotely, celebrated digitally their graduations and inaugurated a series of webinars that have been giving access to its expertise and values to a larger public, reaching also those who could never attend on-site events before the lockdowns.
At ALTIS, everyone is eagerly waiting to return to the campus and resume in-person attendance, which is still considered to be the best learning method. However, the past year represented a valuable opportunity to its people: it allowed them to reflect once more on the School’s role and improve the way they conduct researches, train students, and support companies and organisations, even remotely.
A commitment to Sustainable Education
ALTIS is committed to keeping growing in accordance with its mission: promoting entrepreneurship and management for sustainable development. In shaping tomorrow’s managers and entrepreneurs, it contributes to creating a generation of people that will bring forth this vision and integrate it into the organisations and societies in which they will operate.
As for education, it will keep designing training programmes focused on sustainability, to promote its integration in various economic sectors and provide its students with sound managerial skills enriched with a vision and approach that values social impact and social responsibility.
In 2022, it will expand its offer for executives and launch new programmes on sustainable finance, sustainable business administration, and circular economy, as well as courses focused on the practical implementation of sustainable policies in a company.
Regarding aspects of research, the researchers will develop new tools and methodologies to measure social impact and will keep analysing the relationship between stakeholder engagement and business performance, and identifying the drivers of growth and the creation of value for a company. New partnerships will be created with national and international institutions, to provide novel research opportunities, exchange best practices and findings, and amplify the reach of its publications.
Moreover, the ‘consulting area’ will keep expanding its expertise and hone the skills of its youngest consultants. The consultancy team plans to collaborate with more companies and organisations, with a specific focus on SMEs, thus reaching the entrepreneurs that constitute Italy’s economic backbone: more than 90% of Italian companies fit in this category. It most certainly will keep transferring tools and knowledge through consultancy projects, events or training programmes, with an open-minded approach and a drive for innovation, in Italy and abroad.
A few years ago, the E4Impact Foundation announced that it will have created a portfolio of MBA entrepreneurship programmes in 20 African countries by 2023, leading an ever-greater impact on the continent in terms of entrepreneurs trained, new enterprises launched, and new jobs created in the formal economy. Today, the Foundation works in 16 countries and its team is determined to reach the goal by the deadline, yet it might even exceed the expectations.
Empowering learners with a bold vision
In the future, sustainability is going to be an even greater priority than it is now: it is necessary for the development of a fairer and more responsible economy and a society. In this, the interaction and collaboration among different sectors are of paramount importance.
Non-profit organisations have a clear understanding of the value of a development model that takes into consideration the wellbeing of an individual and the society during policymaking, as opposed to a model where such issues are considered only as a remedial action after impactful decisions were made. They generally have a strong purpose but lack the expertise and managerial skills of the corporate world.
The new generation of entrepreneurs need to learn from both dimensions, up to the point of being able to balance economic success and social and environmental impact. Doing business cannot disregard anymore the needs of customers and clients, their claims for greater transparency or a more sustainable supply chain.
The consequence is that even corporate innovation takes on a “social” perspective and is now aimed at developing solutions to today’s issues, through technological advancement, knowledge transfer, organisational reforms and empowerment of individuals. This is how companies can harmoniously coexist with a community and its territory, thus bringing forth benefits for both parts.