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Business in Society (19CIE05300)

General information






S semester

ECTS Credits:


Teaching Staff:

Group Teacher Department Language
Sira Abenoza González Ciencias Sociales ENG


No prerequisites

Previous Knowledge

No previous knowledge necessary

Workload distribution

Workload will be divided as:

25% Weekly assignments
25% Class discussion and participation
50% Final projects


The departure point of this course is that the future of management requires that we integrate ethics and sustainability as a central strategic issue in business. We believe that companies need to re-think and re-frame their role in society, particularly in terms of contributing to sustainable development; which requires re-thinking and re-framing central business concepts. This means that future managers and entrepreneurs will have to integrate ethical, social and environmental issues in their responsibilities. Put differently, from a purely pragmatic point of view all managers and entrepreneurs, regardless of their position, will have to deal with sustainability issues as they are a central source of long-term competitiveness for the firm.

Thus, our departing assumption is that learning to effectively manage ethical, social and environmental issues can produce positive results for the manager as well as for the company. In this regard, the central objective of this course is to present students with tools to understand and manage ethical, social and environmental issues produced by business activities, and to turn these into opportunities to increase firm competitiveness. The central premise of the course is that sustainability and firm competitiveness are connected through innovation.

The course will start with an introduction to how businesses have to deal with new ethical dilemmas today and thus to how important it is as managers to improve and strengthen our ability to solve ethical dilemmas. We will then delve into theories that try to explain why we do evil. After that, the course will move towards finding solutions to our sometimes-dreadful behavior. We will explore theories of dialogue and cooperation; the concept of shared value and nudging for good; we will take a look into models of social entrepreneurship and ask ourselves about how to work with the bottom of the pyramid; finally we will explore what we personally want to do with all these tools. That is, we will ask ourselves who do we want to be and to what world do we want to contribute to as a manager.

Course Learning Objectives

Different companies use different names and acronyms to refer to the management of ethical, social and environmental issues, such as sustainability, compliance, corporate citizenship, or corporate social responsibility. All these terms have two things in common: (1) they are designed with the common purpose of contributing to sustainable development; and (2) they approach ethical, social and environmental issues as specific issues that need to be managed independently, and more often than not consider these issues from a risk management perspective. This is a limited and incomplete view of ethical, social and environmental issues, as many companies are approaching these issues from an opportunity perspective, under the assumption that sustainability can be a source of innovation and competitiveness for firms. More than that, many companies are realizing that sustainability issues need to be addressed and properly managed, as there are no longer areas that the company can overlook. However, in order to develop sustainable competitiveness strategies firms need to develop a clear sustainability vision, and embed this vision through a firm culture. This means integrating these issues into an ethical framework, translating this into specific company values, mapping material issues, engaging stakeholders, and implementing a culture of social entrepreneurship or intrapreneurship. In that regard, the course will focus on the following key topics:

- Business ethics: current business dilemmas, corporate identity, company values and ethics, codes of conduct, codes of ethics.
- Theories of evil
- Stakeholder dialogue, mapping and engagement: looking for long-term value creation through the stakeholder view of the firm.
- Social innovation: sustainability as a key source of innovation, and how we need to change our innovation mindset
- Social entrepreneurship: how to solve social and environmental problems by creating a business model.
- Managing sustainability: designing and implementing shared value or responsible competitiveness strategies.
- Changing the nature of the firm: looking at how all the preceding issues effectively change or re-frame key business assumptions.

Since we only have 10 sessions together, the aim of the course will be to focus on understanding the complexity of integrating ethics and sustainability in the core of the firm and its strategic implications, rather than spending a lot of time to analyze specific areas or tools. The assumption, as we mentioned before, is that sustainability is strongly connected to firm competitiveness through the innovation of ideas rather than products, services or processes. Therefore, we will look at all these different issues from a general management and entrepreneurial perspective, but we will not go deeply into technical development of any of these solutions. Our aim is to understand the why, the what and the who. Said differently, our goal is NOT to teach students how to develop a detailed technical solution in any of the particular areas described above, but rather to equip students with a general understanding so that as future managers and/or entrepreneurs they know what the issues are, and they can therefore interpret and integrate potential ethical, social and environmental challenges into their management practices to generate value for the firm and for society. In other words, we expect to help them become more conscious managers who are able to make more conscious choices.

In order to achieve these objectives, participants in this course are required above all to have an open mind and to be willing to discuss even the most basic or sacred of business assumptions. If the key is the innovation of ideas the only way to change mindsets is to be willing to dialogue (not debate), which means to argue and listen rather than expose and defend. In that regard students should come to this course with a strong and honest desire for self-improvement, interest in questioning central management, ethical, social and environmental issues from different points of view, as well as open mindedness and tolerance toward different ideas. This course is designed to shake core beliefs and to open the door to other possible solutions, which means that as a general rule students should finish each session with more doubts and confusion than before the session. The end goal is for this course to plant a seed which you will develop and grow making it a part of your sense-making and sense-giving process.

Specific competences the course will contribute to develop are:

1. Critical thinking and ethical reasoning
2. Understanding complexity
3. Collaboration
4. Dialogue
5. Project management
6. Team management


11. Adaptability, flexibility (CT3)
10. Corporate citizenship (CB8)
8. Comprehension of the relational context of organizations (CT4)
6. Strategic thinking, systemic thinking (CT1)
5. Learning how to learn (CB10)
4. Communicating information and/or knowledge (CB9; CE5)
3. Taking decisions / making judgments (CB8; CE6)
2. Application of knowledge to achieve results (CB7)
1. Knowledge acquisition, comprehension and structuring (CB6; CE1)
12. Teamwork and collaboration (CT6)
15. Leadership (CT8; CE2)
18. Tenacity, persistence, constancy (CE3)
13. Influence (CT5)
14. Mediation and conflict management (CT7)


1. Introduction to the course and to Ethical reasoning

In this session we will first do an introduction to the course by explaining its main objectives, methodology, evaluation, etc. After that, we will focus on the ethical frameworks that have been proposed to face some of the challenges we encounter as managers, and we will use these to discuss how companies can use them to develop and implement an ethical framework of their own, and some of the complexities that this process entails. The goal is to learn how to analyze companies¿ policies and actions form an ethical and critical perspective.

2. Business presentation

On the second session we will have a guest speaker coming from the company that students will be working on for their final project. The aim of the session is to have the main representative of the company come to class and explain the ethical and strategic problem that the company is facing. That will also be the chance for students to pose questions and gather relevant information for the consulting they will do.

3. Banality of evil

Why do human beings do evil? Is it in our nature? Is it part of our instinct? Is it a miscalculation? Is it a result of ignorance or a clear by product of our consciousness? In this session we will focus on the systemic nature of evil, and how the environment can condition our behavior for better or for worse. Exploring real historic examples as well as several psychological experiences, we will aim at learning lessons that can helps us as managers or entrepreneurs.

4. Dialogue and The Age of Cooperation

The key to succeed in implementing stakeholder engagement strategies is directly linked to our ability to cooperate. Future business models have a lot to do with collaborating with other agents (Governments, NGO, etc.) and with designing new models that operate in hybrid spaces. That will only be possible if we previously learn how to engage with internal and external stakeholders. Which is the same as to say: that can only happen if we learn how to dialogue with them. In this session we will on the importance of dialogue and how it can be applied to businesses. In preparation for this session we will read ¿Code¿ from Richard Sennet.

5. Shared value

Embedding sustainability into firm strategy in order to generate value for the firm and for society is the end goal of the course, and in this session we will focus on how we can connect the dots between the ethical challenges, our sustainability vision and social innovation to generate value for the company and for society.

6. Social innovation

In this session we will focus on social innovation (which in our view means social and environmental innovation) and we will explore whether this is different than traditional business innovation and if so how does it impact the firm? We will look at examples of how companies are finding ways to sustainable innovation, focusing on the example of nudging.

7. Social Entrepreneurship

In this session we will focus on how the classical distinction between private companies, public organizations and the third sector are becoming blurred and how more and more organizations are finding that they need to think simultaneously as a firm, a government and an NGO. We will look in particular at how many organizations are working in this hybrid space and how social entreprises, from both intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs, are one of the most efficient ways to work on sustainable innovations. We will start the debate reading a text called ¿Creating Succesful Business Models¿ that presents the debate on organizationals approaches best suited to face specific challenges.

8. Bottom of the Pyramid and Frugal Innovation

In this session we will focus on how companies are approaching sustainable innovation in emerging and developing markets. This session we will have a bit longer readings to start the debate before class, where we will read three articles by Prahalad and Karnani which mirror the debate around social innovation in developing countries. We will also discuss how an increasing number of companies are finding opportunities in developing sustainable solutions in emerging or developing markets.

9. Personal value

In the last session of the course and after having discussed about different tools that can be used by companies to be more ethical, social and environmentally friendly, we will change our focus. In this case our main question will be of an individual nature. That is, we will discuss how each one of us wants and hopes to deal with all the topics we have touched along the course. In other words we will ask ourselves what is the personal value of the `shared value¿ approach.

10. Presentation of final projects

In this session the students will present in groups their final projects, which they will have developed throughout the course. The objective will be to present innovative projects tailored to a specific company.


the methodology of this course is designed to foster critical thinking, dialogue, reflection, connect ideas and manage complexity. With that in mind there are three basic working units in the class: plenary, groups and individuals. In plenary we will have in depth dialogue. In teams we will learn about inspiring examples and we will also work on complex challenges to either conduct in-depth analysis, or to offer creative solutions. Individually we will foster analysis and reflection. The three working units are designed to reinforce each other as to offer a multiplier effect, by which the final learning will not be the sum of the activities at the three working units. In other words, each working unit should provide a different type of learning that will be used in activities at other working units which will not add, but multiply the learning.

Almost every session will follow the same structure: previous to each session (except session 10) each student will have to watch a movie and/or read a mandatory reading that we will use for the class discussion. All movies will be a preparation for the first part of each session where one team of students will have to conduct a dialogue around the ethical dilemmas included in the movie. After that, the professor will introduce one new topic in each session and students will have to participate in the discussion based on the mandatory reading for the session. During the last part of each session, one team will present the example of an inspiring business model.

The idea is that each week students will have to work individually as well as in teams on the course, connecting the different tasks (i.e. reading, reflecting, team discussion, research, writing). Students are expected to dedicate an average of 6 hours per week outside the classroom to do the readings, reflect on topics discussed in class, and to work on the projects.

On the other hand, students will also have to work each week in teams on their final projects. The final project will consist on a consulting project for a real business. The goal will be to help this business solve an ethical and strategic challenge that it is facing. Managers of this business will be invited to class to present the case to students. All students divided in teams will have the chance to raise questions that can help them work on the deliverables they will present by the end of the course. In the last session of the course, each team will have to present their proposal on how the business should solve the moral and business problem thanks to an ethical and competitive solution.

Professors and tutors will help during the process, but we expect each team to be highly independent and creative in tackling the problems faced in the project. If for some projects a team needs additional assistance from specific areas of knowledge like finance, marketing, operations, organizations or strategy, they will let us know and we will find a professor at ESADE that can help.

The project should integrate issues learned in class, including tools discussed each week such as: stakeholder dialogue, cooperation, social innovation, etc. This final project will be presented in the form of a written report in Word or pdf format. The report should be between 10 and 30 pages long not including appendixes, table of contents, title page or list of references. The document should be submitted using 12 font size double spaced. The delivery will be two weeks after the last session of the course. One report should be delivered for each team, and each team member is expected to dedicate at least 45 hours of work in total to the final project (about 3 hours per week on average plus some additional time at the end to produce the actual report and presentation).

Finally, by the end of the course students will have to do an individual essay. This will consist on an in-depth analysis of one of the ethical dilemmas that have been discussed in class and have been conducted by another team. These essays will have to be turned in one week after the last day of class.

Thus in total this course expects students to dedicate about 75 hours of work outside of class, plus the hours in class where students should be present and fully focused. In other words, this course requires a bit over 100 hours of work, including class, team work, readings and individual reflections.

What do we expect from you in class

- This is a discussion course, where most of the learning will happen as we express and listen different points of view. Thus, it is crucial to establish a strong dialogue around central topics. We expect an attitude of collaboration rather than competition. We will all be responsible for the quality of the discussion. Therefore we expect students to act responsibly and to try to help the flow of the dialogue, avoid repetitions, keep their comments concise, and so forth. In this regard it is important to remember that there is a big difference between debating and dialoguing, where in the former often the goal is to defend or persuade of a pre- conceived idea, while in the latter the goal is to reflect, search, explore, discover?
- To have a productive dialogue it is imperative that students come to class prepared and that while in class you are focused. This means not using your laptop, tablets or phones for other purposes than class and not being distracted. That is, laptops/tablets may not be used for emailing, facebooking, tweeting, chatting, skyping, internet surfing, and so forth. Using them for these purpose will penalize strongly the class participation grade. We are all responsible for creating an atmosphere that is conducive to the learning goals of the course.
- For the class to work properly we need you to be on time and respectful of your classmates. Contributions should be always constructive and all points of view should be allowed. That means that tardiness or disrespectful attitudes will be penalized deducting points from the participation grade.
- In a discussion and dialogue environment it is more important to listen actively than to speak. In that regard focused listening will be rewarded and the opposite will be penalized. If you did not have a chance to give your opinion move on, follow the flow of the discussion, but don't take us back. In that regard it is important to keep in mind that with such a large group of people you will not be able to speak many times, so use your time well.
- As we explained previously, this is a course designed to embrace complexity, and therefore to confuse you. Therefore is paramount to keep an open mind and to be willing to question everything. In that regard great contributions to the dialogue can come in the form of questions or doubts. In any case in these discussions by definition there will be no correct or wrong answers. The goal of the discussion will not be to provide you with an answer, but rather the opposite, to see that there are many different alternatives, and to understand the reality and implications of each of them and how they are connected. Most of the learning is supposed to happen when you reflect on the issues discussed after class, or even later on in time.
- For team assignments it is extremely important that you do not divide the work among team members and do it individually. As we explained the learning method is designed so that team and individual work reinforce each other. The goal of teamwork is to have in-depth discussions and brainstorming among group members, to work together and come to more evolved and complex solutions, where working separately defeats the purpose. Furthermore, dividing the work diminishes the quality of the work and will be very clear in your deliveries and will be reflected in your grades.
- ESADE's honor code is very much applicable here. First of all we expect students to treat each other and professors with respect. We will not accept plagiarism, cheating or lying.
- Each student must attend at least 8 complete sessions to pass the class. Since we control participation we will also control attendance, and therefore students who leave after the break will be counted only for half a session.
- Attendance to the final session is mandatory, and not attending it will be grounds for failing the course and going automatically to the re-take.
- Students who attend and are focused in all sessions will receive extra credit.
- Class starts on time, at the beginning and after the break. We consider disrespect to classmates and professors coming late to class. Tardiness will be penalized in the participation grade.
- A learning area will be available in the intranet where you will find instructions for the sessions, readings, forums, communications and so forth. We expect you to check the course site a couple times a week.
- We will publish all course slides in the course website always AFTER each class.

Assessment criteria


- Participation and attendance 20%
- Individual essay 20%
- Team presentation 20%
- Final project 40%

Class participation and attendance (20%)
Active participation in class is a key part of this course. We do not consider participation only talking, but a contribution to create the right atmosphere. In that regard, a person who does not speak much but who is completely focused and following the debate with interest is contributing to the dialogue, while on the other hand a person who speaks up a couple times but who is otherwise distracted on his/her computer is doing the opposite.

Grading class participation is necessarily subjective (like all gradings are), but we try to make them as objective as possible looking at some specific things:
- Is the participant prepared? Do comments show evidence of analysis and reflection? Do comments add to our understanding, to the discussion? Does the participant go beyond simple pointing out of facts? Do comments show an understanding of theories, concepts and analytical devices presented in class lectures or reading materials?
- Is the participant a good listener? Are the points made, relevant to the discussion? Are they linked to comments of others? Is the participant willing to interact with other class members?
- Is the participant and effective communicator? Are concepts presented in a concise and convincing way? Does the participant present challenging questions?

We will evaluate student participation every day based on a simple A, B, C and F form, where at the end of each session we will assign an A to students who had an outstanding contribution; a B to students who had good contributions; a C to students who did not contribute much or who contributed but were also distracted or late; and an F to people who were more than 15 minutes late, who were totally distracted or who were disrespectul to the class. After session 4 we will send an email to students who are at the low C's and F levels to inform them that they need to improve, and to students who are in the A category to tell them they are doing a great job and to ask them to continue. The rest of students (B category, which would be equivalent to grades between 7 and 9) will not receive a message. At the end of the course we will convert your participation grades into a 0-10 grade. We want to be able to evaluate the overall contribution of a student to the course, to account for the fact that some days he/she may be more focused than others.

Individual essay (20%)
Each student will have to choose one of the ethical dilemmas that have been presented and discussed in class and write an essay about it. The aim of the essay is to conduct an in-depth analysis of the dilemma, its context, the possible ethical theories that can be applied and the potential solutions to it. These essays will have to be turned in one week after the last day of class and will be individual. The document should be submitted using 12 font size double spaced and it should have around 4 to 5 pages.

Team presentation (15%)
The class will be divided into teams of 5 students. Each team will be assigned either an ethical dilemma or an inspirational pill. Those who are assigned an ethical dilemma, will have to watch the movie assigned to a specific session and conduct a dialogue session around the dilemma during the first 30 minutes of the session. Those who are assigned an inspirational pill will have to present an inspiring business that has properly solved certain dilemmas or that has a strong positive social impact.

Final project (45%)
The final project will consist of a 10 minute oral presentation (30% of the grade) and a 10 to 30 page paper (70% of the grade), double paced, using 12 font (pages will not include cover, table of contents, lists of referenes or appendixes). The goal of the presentation is to show the results of the project in a concise and engaging manner and to allow classmates and professors to ask questions. The goal of the paper is to present a well rounded proposal that helps at solving the ethical and strategic challenge that the company has. The project will be evaluated looking at the following criteria:

- Problem analysis: does the project include an in-depth problem analysis?
- Stakeholder engagement: does the project include a cooperative and dialogical approach?
- Ethical dimension: does the project include an analysis of the ethical dilemmas it presents?
- Creativity: is the project innovative?
- Impact: does it generate a social impact?
- Solution: does it help solve the problem?
- Feasibility: is the project sound and credible?
- Narrative: is the project well explained?

Peer review
At the end of the course we will use the peer review as a multiplier for your team work part of the grade (50%). In that regard be aware that not contributing to team work can have a huge impact on your grade. Also, be aware that contributing to team work does not necessarily mean working more, sometimes it means allowing others to participate, teaching, listening and generally helping each other.


Course will include some required and optional Reading, which will be detailed in the syllabus as well as the Moodle, but which will include materials such as:

- Arendt, H. "Eichmann in Jerusalem?, Viking Press.
- Christensen, C.M. "How will you measure your life??, HBR.
- Elkington, J. and Hartigan, P. "Creating successful business models?, HBR (2008). O cannibals with forks???
- Karnani, A.G. (2007). "The Mirage of Marketing to the Bottom of the Pyramid:how the private sector can help alleviate poverty?. California Management Review 49(4):90-111
- Nidumolu, R; Prahalad, C.K.; Rangaswami, M.R. (2009). "Why Sustainability is the Key Driver for Innovation?. Harvard Business Review. September 2009
- Porter, M. and Kramer M. (2013). "Creating Shared Value?, HBR.
- Prahalad, C.K. & Hammond A. (2002). "Serving the world's poor, profitably?. Harvard Business Review. 80(9):48-58
- Prahalad, C.K. (2007). Letter of response to A.Karnani
- Sennet, R. (2012). Code, from the book Together: the Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Co-operation. Yale University Press.
- Thaler, R.H. and Sunstein, C. "Nudge. Improving decisions about health, wealth and happiness?. Yale University Press.

Timetable and sections

Group Teacher Department
Sira Abenoza González Ciencias Sociales