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Meet the editor of... the Journal of Global Responsibility

An interview with: Dr Grant Jones
Interview by: Margaret Adolphus

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Photo: Dr Grant Jones.Dr Grant Jones is senior lecturer in management at Macquarie Graduate School of Management in Australia. Prior to joining Macquarie, he was a lecturer in strategic management at the University of Canberra, and has also taught throughout Asia.

About the journal

In an interview on this site, John Peters, Emerald's former joint chief executive officer (CEO), discusses the importance of corporate social responsibility and his belief in the ethos of "doing well by doing good". As an integral part of "doing the right thing as a sustainable organization", Emerald invites its authors to consider the social impact of their research.

The 2010 launch of the Journal of Global Responsibility (JGR) fits into this ethos. JGR publishes scholarly articles (both theoretical and empirical) around issues of globally responsible and sustainable leadership:

"The journal wants to help organizations rethink themselves and to encourage them to evaluate their own progress in terms of the progress of the communities in which they operate and thus lead the entrepreneurial and creative capacity of capitalism to become a force for building common good" (JGR information page).

Currently, it is the only journal in the world with such a focus.

Can you describe the mission of JGR, and why you are launching it?

JGR channels the talents and energies of scholars towards the generation of more globally responsible leadership. Scholarship alone does not create a social movement. However, social movements are greatly assisted by a robust intellectual framework.

I spotted the need for the journal about two years ago, there wasn't any other journal that was really dealing with these issues. So the timing was dictated by my moment of realization.

The idea of global responsibility was emerging from Europe, and was being picked up in other parts of the world, such as America. It seemed a broader and richer concept than corporate social responsibility, which had taken us a long way, but had also become a bit limited.

So, what's the difference between the two concepts?

I guess the most obvious one is that corporate social responsibility addresses the responsibility of corporates – incorporated business with a company structure, especially large ones. The idea of global responsibility goes beyond that in a couple of ways. First it implies that your responsibilities are broader than just your immediate environment, and second it also means inclusivity.

So everyone is responsible, not just corporates: e.g. non-governmental organizations, public sector organizations, clubs and societies and any organized groups, as well as individual citizens. Corporate social responsibility tends to pin it all on the corporates, implying that they alone are the problem. It also cuts across the rights and responsibilities debate: whereas corporate social responsibility claims it is always the responsibility of the corporates to protect the rights of others, according to global responsibility, the corporates also have rights, and the others have responsibilities.

A good way of illustrating the limits of corporate social responsibility is to take the case of children working in sweatshops. Corporate social responsibility shines a light on what the corporate does to someone else, when the reality is that corporates are part of the community, and they and the community all act together or against each other in some chaotic pattern, to create the kind of outcomes that exist in the world.

The community as a whole should be examining its impact on the environment. Global responsibility would say, "How about all of us involved in creating whatever this bad effect is, getting together and working out how to solve it, as we are all responsible in some way?".

So will your articles reflect this community involvement in social problems supposedly created by businesses?

Yes. And there's an article to be written on whether the communities in some cases aid and abet organizations. And another about how an organization which goes into an essentially corrupt society is damaged by that process. What happens, for example, to Shell, an otherwise responsible corporate citizen, which goes into Nigeria and suddenly becomes unscrupulous?

Children being used in the workforce is a more difficult issue. They are too young to work by our standards. On the other hand, the companies which use them could argue that they would be starving otherwise. Or they might argue that, "because we've looked at our responsibilities and have listened to what people are saying, we are not working these children 16 hours a day any more, we're working them eight hours a day and giving them two hours of education. So we are trying to do something to mitigate the effects".

Is that a positive thing? It's better than children working 16 hours a day in dangerous jobs. It's better than children becoming, let's say, child soldiers.

So, a global perspective tries to include as many different issues as possible and come up with a complex understanding of what is actually happening. It also tries not to be too Eurocentric: to listen to the many different voices without forcing one's own cultural perspective on them.

It's global not only in the geographical sense, but also the cultural and social. Global social responsibility doesn't just mean planetary, either. That's a confusion which has been exacerbated by the climate change debate. Global also means inclusivity: a responsible leader takes account of a broader range of stakeholders and is willing to be accountable to them in his or her decision making. Such leadership becomes sustainable when it gives decision making a longer-term perspective, and hence enhances the organization's long-term legitimacy and viability.

What are your current research interests, and how did you become interested in sustainability?

I have always had an interest in organizational dynamics. I first connected this to sustainability when investigating the political forces from which emerge institutions that govern the natural physical environment. I then coupled this with an interest in action research and the way in which it can broaden the perspectives of people at work. This interest was linked to sustainability and I am currently exploring how learning strategies can develop sustainability as both an organizational strength and a set of outcomes that are worthwhile to the wider set of community interests.

Action research involves academics getting out of the laboratory and going into the workplace and working with people on projects that are operating in and for the workplace. So instead of surveying people about their attitudes to corporate social responsibility, you go in there and talk to them to get their views on what sort of activities they might be interested in pursuing as part of their corporate social responsibility programme.

And we might find that, although we thought the people being surveyed would be mainly interested in environmental issues, what they really want to do is integrate with the community through charity work. So, we come up with a programme that will allow them to do this, for example one day's paid leave a year, more generously two, to do anything from working in a soup kitchen to helping a charity with their professional skills. You then measure the outcomes: how many people are taking their two-days' leave, what sorts of organizations are they working with? Then you reflect and see what can be done to make it better.

The link with sustainability is this: when people reflect they have to engage in meaning and interpretation, so they start to think globally. They also see their job in more visionary terms, and think about what they want the organization to be. They also have to network and form partnerships, very generic sounding skills, but ones that underpin the organization's long-term viability, making it more robust and resilient.

Reflection also improves morale and renews people's sense of vocation. And this is an important point. When most people think about a renewable resource, they think about something like solar energy or biofuels, but people are also a renewable resource. How you manage them depends on whether they get worn out and alienated, or they get refreshed and renewed with a larger view of what they are trying to do.

So that's where my research is: a reflection on action learning and leadership capacity and sustainability.

You describe sustainability as a new and rapidly expanding area of scholarly activity. How does this activity manifest itself?

There are a number of ways that interest is manifesting itself. Some conferences have taken an interest in broader responsibilities, not the least of these was the 2009 Academy of Management annual conference in Chicago, with its green management theme. This year's International Federation of Scholarly Associations of Management (IFSAM) Conference in Paris in July is focused on sustainability and justice. Business schools are also examining how they can build sustainability into their curricula. The Dow Jones Sustainability Index now covers companies worth collectively about 8 trillion US dollars. Bill Clinton has got involved in an initiative to get cheap pharmaceuticals to the Third World. And of course everyone knows about Al Gore's work. So, there are some powerful institutions in harness.

Then there are a number of academic institutions springing up: the Institute for Sustainable Leadership at Macquarie, and the University of Cambridge's Sustainability Network, which persuaded 500 companies to sign a declaration bolstering the will of the politicians before the Copenhagen conference. There's also an action research degree in sustainability at the University of Gloucestershire, and Nottingham University has done a lot to try and mainstream sustainability into its curriculum. Daniella Tilbury at the University of Gloucestershire, who I'm glad to say is on our editorial board, is one of the leading academics connecting action research to sustainability

The themes of responsibility and sustainability give new life and a sense of purpose to many established concerns such as ethics, environmentalism, gender, organizational cultures, leadership, corporate social responsibility and change.

All these are good reasons for having a journal: people need a place to reflect, and share their experiences.

From what disciplines do you expect to draw papers, and will you explicitly encourage interdisciplinary papers? If so, how?

I expect papers from all the sub-disciplines of management (finance and accounting, strategy and marketing, operations, and human and organizational studies) as well as the more fundamental academic disciplines including philosophy, sociology, politics, economics, history and psychology.

The themes of JGR lend themselves to a cross-disciplinary approach. Take for example the concept of the triple bottom line, which says that instead of one bottom line which sets out assets versus liabilities, profit versus loss, there are three bottom lines. Accounting gets you one of them, but how do we measure the others? Sociology may help us measure social impact, the physical sciences, the ecological sciences and ecological economics can help with environmental impact.

Who are the journal's key audiences, and does it have a potential readership outside of academia?

It will mainly be of interest to academics working in the fields mentioned above, and particularly those working from a critical theory perspective, examining the contradictions of capitalism.

Critical theory is all about confronting those ideas we never question, for which there appears to be good scientific evidence. But critical theory has a very strong political nose, and points out that these ideas are the ones that serve the interests of powerful groups. So, let's look at these ideas and see if they are contestable, and we can debunk them. Critical theory is often very emancipatory: take ideas such as the Protestant work ethic or the "natural" role of women, which now sound ridiculous, but only because someone has pointed out that there isn't a "natural order" of things.

So critical theory looks at the assumptions behind knowledge and tests them to see if they are actually valid. And often you find that they're not. Its role in our journal is to apply this critical evaluation to capitalism. Capitalism has been a great force for progress and has done a wonderful service to humankind, but it's full of contradictions and is really no longer working to the benefit of the planet. It may be producing buckets of material wealth and mobilizing people's energies towards incredible productivity, but we have to think about its secondary effects. Should we really all be driving around in large cars such as people carriers or working 50 hour weeks, for example?

Capitalism may have reached its use-by date; 30 years ago people said it would go away and be replaced by a revolutionary state. They no longer think like that, but, especially in the wake of the financial crisis, capitalism needs to take a good look at itself and reform. A key role of the journal is to provide a platform for such reflections.

As to whether there's a market outside academia, the line between academia and the rest of the world has become a bit blurred. We have a number of think tanks in Australia which are like research institutes except that the line they take is influenced by their source of funding.

So I can't totally identify the market with scholars working within universities because that interest has fragmented. On the other hand, I do not believe that the average CEO is going to pick up and read our journal. Most executives in companies get their management theory second-hand. Either they do an MBA and get a big dose of it in the classroom, or they employ consultants who take on a whole lot of academic theory and knowledge and simply present it as their own ideas. So, while the journal may not have a direct audience among practising managers, its ideas will reach them in one of these ways.

I also cherish the hope that we will start to see collaboratively written articles between academics and industrialists. There is one of these in the first issue.

How will you ensure that the journal has a genuinely global appeal?

We are receiving submissions from all over the world. The editorial board has representatives from every inhabited continent and also the panel of reviewers is spread around the world.

It is important that we are culturally intelligent in assessing articles that come to us, and we want to provide extra assistance to those who might have something important to say, but are coming from a non-English speaking background.

There has been recent criticism, in the wake of the financial crisis, about the failure of management education to equip managers for responsible and moral leadership. What do you see the role of JGR here?

There is a limit to what management education in its current form can do, and the research results are mixed on the degree to which management education can encourage responsible decision making on the ground. So, we need articles that are fundamentally prepared to question the nature of both education and business. As the saying goes: we cannot solve problems using the same thinking that created the problems in the first place. A critical journal like JGR can make a contribution to challenging current thinking and putting forward alternatives.

You are closely aligned both with the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative (GRLI) and with the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD). Can you explain the relationship with these organizations, and how they are promoting sustainable leadership?

The GRLI is an initiative developed by the United Nations Global Compact and EFMD, but it has its own corporate identity. The idea is to take large, global corporates partnering with business schools and get them to join together: there are now about 60 such partnerships. These partnerships work on projects to promote more responsible activities. For example, my institution, Macquarie, partners with the National Australia Bank, which, because it has interests in the UK and USA, is a global bank.

Its title makes one think it's about promoting responsible leadership, but it's really about leading global responsibility. It is working with business schools and has developed the Principles for Responsible Management Education, pronounced colloquially as "prime".

This journal is another initiative, and just over half the membership of the editorial board, including me as editor in chief, is composed of people who are also representatives or institutional members of the GRLI. So, the GRLI has quite an influence over the editorial line. In addition the GRLI officially endorses JGR.

I should emphasize that the journal is owned by Emerald, but Emerald is also an institutional member of the GRLI. All in all, the relationship is close and productive. It just so happened that I pitched the idea about the time Emerald was thinking of joining the GRLI, so it was one of those times when everything seems right in terms of politics and people's cooperation.

The journal is one way in which the GLRI can exercise its influence. This is unusual because a lot of journals say they don't have a value base or an agenda, but this is a journal which actually has an agenda: i.e. to promote global responsibility.

A fairy godmother grants you three dream papers. What subjects would they be on and what qualities would make them stand out from the norm?

My three dream papers would be:

1. "Implications of new concepts in responsible leadership for leader development – the case of the Centre for Creative Leadership".
We need as many case studies of truly innovative organizations as possible, especially where those organizations have survived and prospered through hard times.

2. "The social construction of leadership identity – are companies becoming sustainability leaders, despite the best efforts of the CEO?".
We need to challenge the idea that leadership is something one person does to a mass of others. Responsibility is a shared ethic and is likely to be socially constructed and driven.

3. "A review of responsible investment products linking responsibility to resilience and performance in a global financial meltdown".
The people on the editorial board think the business case for sustainability has been made. We believe that acting responsibly will increase profitability: there are very few industries that cannot benefit. However many business people believe that profit is the only thing that matters, and need convincing otherwise. So, we need to keep remaking the case.

In addition, the journal tries to think beyond the traditional form of the scholarly paper, which academics tend to be so drilled into that they dismiss anything that doesn't fit it. According to this form, you start with a statement of the question or the hypothesis, then there's got to be a literature survey, which has to be refined into testable propositions. Then there must be something about methodology and the methodology must stack up against accepted methodologies. Then there's got to be the result, along with a discussion, and finally a conclusion. As a form of writing, that's very narrow.

So whereas we accept articles in that form, it's only one form. I have an excellent article, that I will publish in the first edition, which has no literature survey in it at all; it is just very provocative, cogent argument that really takes you somewhere that you weren't before you started to read it. That article has merit, because it's going to have impact. And that has a place, even in a scholarly journal. Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech didn't have a literature review, if he'd submitted it to a journal he wouldn't have got past the article review process.

How do you see the journal developing over the next couple of years, in terms of number of issues and papers per year, special issues etc.?

Our policy is to run special issues as a means of catalysing a wide variety of scholars around issues that need sustained and in-depth reflection. I would invite anyone who has an idea for a special to contact me directly. Over the coming 12 months I also want to grow the number of reviewers – currently 80 – and develop a plan for achieving rankings in indexing and abstracting services.

My aspiration is that JGR should be a top tier journal. Because the journal is unique, that's not too far-fetched: there's no other place for articles with a global responsibility focus.

Editor's note

Margaret Adolphus interviewed Dr Grant Jones in January 2010. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

Visit the information page for: Journal of Global Responsibility