Management and Social Justice Conversation Series Reimagines Management Education as a Tool for Social Good
“Should business schools be bulldozed?” is a question many progressive management professors ask themselves. Latha Poonamallee, Chair of Management at the Milano School of Policy, Management, and Environment and School of Undergraduate Studies in the Schools of Public Engagement, and University Fellow asks a different question. “What if management and organizations were vehicles to advance collective good and social justice instead of being tools of oppression?” As a longtime management scholar, educator, and a socio-tech entrepreneur, she understands that good management and visionary management education can bring about social change. For that vision to be realized, organizations need managers, followers, and leaders who are adept at inspiring and listening, eager to transform their organizations while attentive to the different voices that must be included, with the aim toward generating more justice in the world.
With that question, Poonamallee created the Management and Social Justice Conversation Series to focus on issues often overlooked by mainstream business and management schools, but central to the management programs at The New School. Calling herself a pragmatic idealist, Poonamallee says, “I approached this by looking at how, management and social justice are often thought of as having an antagonistic relationship, but you need effective organizations and management to deliver goods and services by every sector – be it government, nonprofits, private sector or more alternative forms of organizations such as co-ops, community based organizations, and hybrid social ventures. I wanted to find a way to engage practicing managers and management scholars as well as activists and community organizers. Activists are managers, too; they’re managing their organizations and budgets and motivating people.”
Focusing on three types of events — research roundtables, panels, and skill-building workshops — the Management and Social Justice Conversation Series is bringing together activists, educators, and practitioners to answer a number of provocative questions: If management was a vehicle for attaining social justice and advancing equity and inclusion, what would that look like? What kind of education would be needed? What are the barriers to this kind of management? Through research roundtables like “Social Justice, Innovation, and Relationality” and “Leading for Social Justice,” panels such as “Inclusion, Decolonization, and Investment” and “Bringing Your Organization into the Uprising for Black Lives,” and skill-building workshops such as “Racism Untaught: Revealing and Unlearning Racialized Design” and “The Leader as Poet and Prophet: A New Approach to Equipping Leaders Through Spiritual Development,” presenters and attendees are grappling with this different concept of management.
The series was originally conceived as a two-day in-person conference to be held in May 2020 but was changed to an online series running from June 2020 to May 2021 because of the pandemic. “We briefly thought of canceling the event, but so many people had submitted proposals and we knew there was a lot of interest in this topic. We wanted to offer this space for kindred spirits to come together. So we thought, ‘Why don’t we make it into a year-long conversation series?’” This change yielded an unexpected benefit of removing barriers to attendance and has become more accessible to people all over the world. “We have people attending from all over the world. Going online has actually increased access and affordability, since the only expense now is the ability to get online.”
Poonamallee, who joined The New School in 2018, came as a strategic hire to advance university wide management at The New School. Having come from a more traditional business school background, she was excited by the possibility of centering and embodying the New School values of social justice and progressive orientation in management education.
“Because on many campuses, management programs sit in schools of business, there’s the assumption that management is only for the private sector, but that’s not true,” says Poonamallee. “The private sector is a huge part, but it’s not the only one. I have worked with social movements but also entrepreneurship with social impact and private sector; management does not have to be for the private sector only. The New School is the right institution to offer practical and viable alternatives to traditional share holder capitalism models.
Based on the success of this series, Poonamallee has decided to launch the second series also as a virtual one and will be sending out for call for proposals and submissions in the near future.