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RESEARCH: GSB Conference To Highlight Role Of Business


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The University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business (GSB) is hosting its annual Business of Social and Environmental Innovation (BSEI) conference in October, and is calling for interested academics and leaders in the sustainablitiy and inclusive markets movements to submit research papers or case studies.

Travel bursaries have been made available to facilitate applicants’ participation, and to ensure that the highest standard of regional and international content is made available.

Through these papers and studies the GSB aims to tackle issues plaguing the implementation of sustainable action. Building on the success of the inaugural conference last year, the event will continue and extend the debate on the role of business in developing innovative responses to complex social and environmental problems.

In hosting this conference, the GSB hopes to provide a bridge between research and the practical implementation of sustainability initiatives, which we hope will in turn lay the ground for real solutions to pressing issues to emerge,” says Dr Francois Bonnici, Director of the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the UCT GSB.

Bonnici says that business schools have had to accept responsibility for having created the current paradigm that has dominated the world of business for the past 100 years and led to the financial collapse of 2009 and that it is now up to them to contribute to the creation of the new paradigms. The BSEI conference is a key part of this.

Prof Ralph Hamann, Director of Research at the GSB was the driving force behind the first BSEI conference in 2011. “Building on the discussions at the first GSB Conference on the Business of Social and Environmental Innovation, we are excited to invite abstracts of papers or cases for presentation at this year’s event. We will again emphasise cross-pollination between different disciplines, themes, and geographic experiences, and productive interactions between researchers and practitioners – these were hallmarks of our first event highlighted in delegates’ feedback,” says Hamann.

This year content and presentations will be focus on two main themes: social entrepreneurship and informal sector entrepreneruship in order to create coherent threads of conversation within the broader theme of the conference series.

The first focus theme, social entrepreneurship, relates to the development of innovative, market-linked solutions to social and environmental problems. While such initiatives vary in objectives, scale, or their organisational form, Bonnici says that a common denominator is the application of business principles to a social purpose. In the context of South Africa, there is particular interest in how this theme intersects with the second focus theme, of informal sector entrepreneurship.

Hamann, notes that “informal sector entrepreneurship has received remarkably little attention from academic research. The GSB now is seeking to uncover a better understanding of the opportunities and constraints faced by entrepreneurs in the informal sector, their impacts and consequences, and how they interact with broader societal and institutional forces.”

Adding another interesting dimension to the conference is the fact that it will overlap with the inaugural Sustain our Africa Summit, Expo and Festival – an initiative that the GSB is supporting. The event will assemble thought leaders from across the globe to grapple with the issues of how to achieve positive environmental, social and financial change in Africa; and will naturally feed into the discussions of the 2nd BSEI Conference. “If the BSEI conference is the vehicle to provide practical solutions, then Sustain our Africa is the ideal mouthpiece to spread awareness of these solutions,” said Bonnici.

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