Dialogue: Can Business Scholars Make a Difference in the World?

By Stephan Manning.

How relevant is academic research for practice? How much real-world impact can or should scholars generate? What is the value of abstract theory especially in a highly practical field such as business and management? For years, scholars and journalists have debated these questions. Examples include articles by Nick Kristof in the New York Times on the need for more #engagedacademics, and by Joshua Rothman in The New Yorker on the ‘academic nature’ of academic writing. We also debated the under-utilized potential of academia in driving social change in a previous post on the OSC blog. In fact, there is a whole sub-discipline within management research entirely dedicated to better understanding the interaction between academia and practice. But what has been the outcome of this? Is research today more relevant than in the past? Can business scholars make a difference in the world?

Continue reading

Pen Sharing – The Invisible Global Sharing Economy That Works

By Stephan Manning.

Some time ago people celebrated Airbnb and Uber as new forms of sharing economies that might democratize and challenge existing principles of capitalism. But soon people got disappointed when they learned that Airbnb is reproducing inequality and is becoming just another hotel business, and that Uber drivers went on strike to fight against price cuts of the Uber Corporation, like in any other industry. In fact, disappointments about alternative economies within our capitalist system have a history. Oftentimes, these economies are very limited in scale, they do not sustain, they turn into profit-making businesses, or they turn out very difficult to organize. Famously, Paul Krugman once described the Capitol Hill Babysitting Co-Op as an example of a failed sharing economy: it went into recession because couples would rather bank time by babysitting than utilize the service to care for their children; thus there was insufficient demand for the available sitter supply. So are sharing economies just an ideal? Is there any sharing economy that has sustained over time? Well there is, but you might not be aware of it…

Continue reading

Oxford English for Cheap: The Dark Side of Offshore Call Centers

By Mehdi Boussebaa.

Offshoring of call center work to ‘developing’ nations by Western companies has become a huge business. For many, it represents a positive force of ‘globalisation’, bringing not only labor cost benefits to Western companies but also employment and career opportunities to ‘developing’ nations. Others, however, see a darker side. Call center work is often exploitative, oppressive and talent-wasting as it puts university-educated workers through ‘dreary work, unsocial hours and Big Brother-style observation’ (The Observer, 30 October 2005). Plus, these workers often experience abuse and racism on the phone and even lose – partly at least – their identity in an attempt to pass for Westerners. According to Shehzad Nadeem, training Indian workers in a ‘neutral’ global English accent may have the effect that these workers get stripped of their mother tongue (The Guardian, 9 February 2011). A recently published study in the Journal of International Business Studies (Englishization in offshore call centers: A postcolonial perspective) goes even further: training and monitoring the ability of Indian workers to speak ‘pure’ English in some ways re-creates colonial relations and further divides the West from the rest. Why is that?

Continue reading

Beyond the Status Quo: How Corporate Sustainability Can Become a Reality

By Nardia Haigh.

Many would agree that corporate sustainability has become a buzzword, without actually changing corporate practices all that much. Recent news supports that: BP was found grossly negligent in the Deepwater Horizon disaster; the U.S. tobacco industry continues to rely on pre-teens working in the fields; and Pacific Gas & Electric is under legal scrutiny for allegedly causing a gas explosion due to suspected safety violations. So why aren’t all those sustainability strategies and programs, including new ‘sustainable’ products, the appointment of Chief Sustainability Officers, and the submission of regular sustainability reports, enabling corporations to become more sustainable? And what does it take to change that?

Continue reading

Does the Sharing Economy Reproduce Inequality?

By Eliad Shmuel.

The magazine Fast Company recently published an article with the provocative title: “Can The Sharing Economy End Discrimination?” The author, David Mandell, is CEO of the office sharing marketplace PivotDesk and promoter of a new trend now everybody talks about: the sharing economy. Like David Mandell, many believe that millennials choose access over ownership, and that services such as Airbnb and Uber are democratizing the hospitality and private transportation business. This is because, rather than relying on corporate power, branding and expensive marketing, users determine themselves, through ratings, whether they like and thus recommend certain service providers or not. Likewise, providers, e.g. of Airbnb apartments, choose users based on their ratings. Ratings and reviews may vary, but on average, according to Mandell, they provide fair and objective feedback. Each participant of the sharing economy has thus equal chances of becoming popular among others – no matter what educational or social background, what race, religion, gender or sexual preference. But is that really so?

Continue reading

Police, Privatization and Public Data on the Use of Force: A Response to Ferguson

By Pacey Foster.

Recent events in Ferguson, MO, have generated a national discussion about the growing militarization of the police and their accountability to the public for potential abuses of power. While Massachusetts does not have the worst national reputation in this regard, we do have deep and historical reasons to be concerned. Recent claims that some Massachusetts law enforcement agencies are in fact private corporations, and thus exempt from public reporting requirements, should only add to growing public concern.

Continue reading

Do We Need More (Ice Bucket) Challenges to Change the World?

By Stephan Manning.

If somebody had told me earlier this year that the best way to raise money for research on a rare disease is to have people pour buckets of ice water over their heads I would have probably suggested ordering another martini – on the rocks! Today it seems that hardly anybody has not been nominated for the ALS ice bucket challenge or at least heard about it. In a nutshell, the idea is to challenge people to either donate $100 for research on ALS* or dump a bucket of ice water on their head within 24 hours, which would qualify them to nominate other people. Critics have called the campaign a substitute for charitable work; a distraction from other campaigns; and a waste of water. But nobody can deny that this campaign has generated over 1 Million Facebook videos since June 1 and more than 2.2 Million tweets since July 29, all of which have helped mobilize $41.8 Million from 739,000 donors for ALS research within the past month. So what’s the secret behind this campaign and do we need more (ice bucket) challenges to solve the world’s many problems?

Continue reading