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Centre for Business Ethics

The purpose of the Centre for Business Ethics (CfBE) is to explore and influence how South African business can respond more ethically to the country's challenges, facilitating open conversations that build trust and helping to secure a more successful, sustainable future both for the business community and the country. 

We connect academia, business, and society, locally and internationally, to co-create ethical solutions, while inspiring and enabling leaders to think, feel, and act in the interests of our shared future.

Background

The ethical challenges of fraud, corruption, compromised institutional integrity, poverty, inequality, discrimination, social polarisation, low trust levels, and populist political agendas plague businesses across the globe. They are especially urgent, dramatic, and intense in South Africa.

In response to these issues and challenges, GIBS established the CfBE (then known as the Ethics and Governance Think Tank) under the leadership of Rabbi Gideon Pogrund in 2016 - a ground-breaking initiative and the first project of its kind in South Africa. It has worked to bring people together and generate creative insights and rigorous ideas which can be translated into educational programmes for students and pragmatic plans of action for the organisational leaders.

The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), a network of over 800 business schools from across the world, named the CfBE as one of its Innovations that Inspire in 2018.

The think tank was converted into an official centre of the University of Pretoria (UP) in January 2021. UP's decision signifies recognition of our progress over the past five years and confidence in our ability to deliver on our bold objectives. 

Approach

We believe business can and should be a force for good.

Ethics must not be seen merely as an 'add-on' to commercial activities but rather belongs to the very heart of business enterprise.  There is a need to help move ethics from the periphery to the centre of organisational decision-making.

GIBS prides itself on being the 'business school of business' and in this spirit, the CfBE has built close relationships with a number of South Africa's most prominent business leaders and largest companies. As a graduate school of business, GIBS' students are largely drawn from the management of large companies, and so our work with business is both inside and outside the classroom.

The CfBE operates at the intersection of scholarship and business practice, aiming to develop rigorous thought leadership which has impact and influence. 

It provides a platform for engagement with broader society, and works with senior leaders from government, trade unions, NGOs, religious organisations, and media. We aim to facilitate a robust exchange and inclusive conversations between business and broader society.

We build collaborative relationships with leading international scholars and institutions. This is both to learn and share, to access cutting-edge thinking from across the world while ensuring that innovative work being done in South Africa travels beyond our borders. Given that South Africa's challenges are a microcosm of global challenges, we believe that the country offers insights and lessons which have relevance around the world.

Through the conversations that we convene and facilitate between leaders from diverse backgrounds and sectors, we co-create ethical solutions to challenging business problems.  We also design and develop educational programmes that aim to influence the ethical attitudes and behaviours of managers and students. 

Core faculty

  • Rabbi Gideon Pogrund, founding director of the CfBE, and adjunct faculty member at GIBS
  • Prof Mollie Painter, academic director of the CfBE, and extraordinary professor at GIBS; leader of Responsible and Sustainable Business Lab (RSB Lab), Nottingham Business School (NBS), UK
  • Prof Kerrin Myres, lead faculty of the CfBE, and full-time faculty member at GIBS
  • Dr Theresa Onaji-Benson, research manager of the CfBE, and research associate at GIBS

Board of Advisors

  • Prof Nick Binedell, former dean of GIBS
  • Prof Nicola Kleyn, dean of Executive Education, Rotterdam School of Management, and former dean of GIBS
  • Dr Zukiswa Mthimunye, adjunct faculty at GIBS
  • Dr Claudelle von Eck, former CEO of the Institute of Internal Auditors SA

Activities

National conversation about ethics 

The CfBE has developed a high-profile national conversation about business ethics. This has been achieved via public forums featuring prominent and influential leaders. All forums have been oversubscribed and attracted significant media coverage.

Participants include: Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, Prof Thuli Madonsela, Trevor Manuel, Pravin Gordhan, Nhlanhla Nene, Mcebisi Jonas, Laurie Dippenaar, Zyda Rylands, Mark Lamberti, Reuel Khoza, Nicky Newton-King, Nonkululeko Nyembezi, Bobby Godsell, Mike Teke, Thandi Orleyn, Bonang Mohale, Mike Brown, Busisiwe Mavuso, Martin Kingston, Stephen Koseff, Andile Sangqu, Adrian Gore, Colin Coleman Sipho Pityana, Sabine Dall'Omo, Barry Swartzberg, Sizwe Nxasana, Michael Katz, Adrian Enthoven, Prof Adam Habib, Thandeka Gqubule and Bishop Paul Verryn. 

For a list of videos from the CfBE's forums, click here.

Small dialogue groups

The CfBE convenes and facilitates dialogue sessions between senior leaders from business and diverse societal stakeholders - government, trade unions, churches, NGOs, academia and media. These sessions focus on the toughest and most contentious issues facing South African business and society: corruption and state capture; poverty and inequality; racial and gender justice; transformation and correcting historical wrongs; land redistribution; economic and political inclusion; and violence and abuse.

The aim is to generate new thinking and expose participants to perspectives and views that they might not otherwise encounter. It is also intended to build trust and understanding – an antidote to the dangerous polarisation threatening South Africa.

Research and publishing 

Developing both academic and practitioner-orientated publications is a strong and increasing area of focus for the CfBE. In collaboration with GIBS faculty as well as international academics, we research and write scholarly papers, white papers, and case studies.

Media articles: 

We also contribute articles to and are interviewed by various media outlets.

Educational programmes

The thought leadership generated by the CfBE's research projects and extensive engagements with business, government, and civil society leaders informs the design and development of educational programmes. These programmes aim to influence the ethical attitudes and behaviours of managers and students. We develop content that is practical, accessible, and digestible and employs innovative pedagogies. 

Click here for a snippet of the Online Ethical Fitness Masterclass.

International links

We have built a network of reciprocal relationships with leading international scholars and institutions, including Harvard Business School and Wharton. These relationships involve both learning and sharing that contribute to thought leadership.

Research Projects

GIBS Ethics Barometer

The GIBS Ethics Barometer for South African business has become the CfBE's flagship research-based project. The Ethics Barometer uses a research tool developed by three Harvard Business School (HBS) scholars and adapted to make it relevant to our own issues and challenges in South Africa.

Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA), the association representing big business in South Africa, has been a strategic partner in the development of this initiative. The Ethics Barometer supports BLSA's three core objectives:

  • advancing a modern, inclusive and growing economy;
  • upholding the constitution and protecting the integrity of the state institutions; and
  • demonstrating that business is a national asset and is central in addressing poverty, unemployment, economic injustice, and transformation.

The Ethics Barometer was officially launched in November 2019 with Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, in Johannesburg, and Professor Thuli Madonsela, the former public prosecutor, in Cape Town. To date, almost 25 leading companies have taken part in this initiative, and we have collected quantitative and qualitative data from over 18,000 employees. These companies are from the banking, insurance, mining, property, professional services, retail, and leisure sectors.

Company-specific data is aggregated and anonymised into the general data, enabling us to construct a national benchmark against which companies can measure their ethical performance. Our hope is that by measuring ethical performance, it will be managed more effectively and eventually become part of a 'new normal' for SA business.

The initiative has also been expanded through the introduction of more sectors and stakeholder groups.

In partnership with the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA), the Ethics Barometer was applied to the accounting profession. All three groups in the 'SAICA pipeline' (students, trainees, and professional members) are being surveyed. The data from these studies is being used to inform and invigorate SAICA's efforts to transform the ethical reality of the profession, and its standing in the business community and broader society.   

In partnership with E-squared (an investment management company and Allan Gray's Black Economic Empowerment partner), the Ethics Barometer was applied to the Small Medium and Micro Enterprise (SMME) sector. We surveyed founders, employees, suppliers, and customers of SMME's and the insights will be used to help develop ethical leadership in a sector which is widely considered to be vital for the future development of the country.

The data from the Ethics Barometer is used to inform the CfBE activities, including dialogues, business-orientated publications, teaching on academic and executive education programmes as well as academic journal articles.

Click here to read the report of the national results from the Ethics Barometer's first phase.

Supporting speak-out cultures in organisations 

The Speak-Out research-based project was initiated after the CfBE co-hosted a cross-sectoral roundtable on Democratising Capitalism and Building Inclusive Business Models. The roundtable engaged business, government and civil society leaders to identify policy priorities for values-driven leadership. A key finding, corroborated by data from the Ethics Barometer, was that creating speak-out cultures has to be an urgent priority. It was clear that the absence of strong institutions and fair treatment of whistle-blowers would make this impossible.

In partnership with Nottingham Business School, the CfBE initiated a research-based project to investigate the experiences of those who have spoken out against wrongdoing, with the objective of understanding the motivations, enablers, and constraints for doing so.

For an infographic summarising the research findings, click here, and for video recordings of webinars with research participants, click below: 

Supporting women's rights through technology

The CfBE has collaborated with Nottingham Business School on the WE DARE (Women's Equality & Digital Access: Rights To Expression) research project, designed to address gender-based violence (GBV) in South Africa and Nigeria. Our focus is on understanding the tacit roots of GBV, the challenges around access to technologies that aim to address this problem, the resultant lack of participation in services that enable support, redress, and justice, as well as victims' reluctance to speak out.

A framework for the Coronavirus vaccine roll-out

The roll-out of the Coronavirus vaccine raises legal, ethical, and operational questions. The CfBE has developed a decision-making framework to help organisations deal with them. This framework is the product of discussions that the CfBE convened and facilitated between senior managers from a leading South African bank and international public health experts and ethicists.

Contact details:  pogrundg@gibs.co.za

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