Business as a force for good—not just profits


Lisa Gring-Pemble is always amazed by the transformation her students undergo when they see the effects grassroots entrepreneurship can have on a community.

The associate professor in George Mason University’s School of Business annually helps lead a class to Colombia to witness how Mason’s Honey Bee Initiative helps local populations set up hives, harvest honey and increase their earning power.

“It’s eye-opening for them,” Gring-Pemble said of her students. “They come with this perception that business is about making a profit. But when they see an avenue where profit and purpose align, they say, ‘Wow, I can really make an impact.’ ”

That sensibility is exactly what Mason’s School of Business wants to export on a grand scale through its new Business for a Better World Center, which launched on Nov. 11 with a talk by sustainability consultant Jeff Foote.

The timing of the center couldn’t be more appropriate, said Gring-Pemble, who leads the center with co-executive director Anne Magro, the School of Business’ deputy dean.

“We are in a time of extraordinary crisis,” Gring-Pemble said. “When you hear what’s happening with climate change and poverty, disease and health care, we really need to make some significant and serious changes. Business can be one of the leaders in that space.”

The center will take that challenge by embracing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which focus on 17 sustainable development goals in three main areas: people, planet and prosperity.

The center plans to educate the next generation of leaders ready to take on these complex challenges, Gring-Pemble said. It will convene leaders across sectors to exchange ideas and generate new ways of doing things, and effect positive change by actively engaging in action-oriented partnerships with organizations and communities.

The Honey Bee Initiative, which Gring-Pemble leads with Germán Perilla as a collaboration between Mason’s School of Business and College of Science, is a prime example of how business can be profitable while doing good.

The initiative, with funding from Spain’s BBVA Bank, has set up 500 hives in the Santander region of Colombia and has 160 beekeepers helping provide stable incomes to their families.

Additionally, the Business for a Better World Center is co-designing and piloting an interdisciplinary curriculum toolkit in partnership with the Moxie Foundation, Conservation X Labs, the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation, and other institutions around the country to transform how universities contribute to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly around conservation and climate change.

The center is also working with international organizations like AshokaU, United Nations Principles for Responsible Management Education, and the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative to create a blueprint that can be used by schools across the globe to embed sustainable development goals in courses. 

“The fundamental question,” Gring-Pemble said, “is how do we reshape higher education so that we are educating students, regardless of their major, to be the next generation of leaders who can create business models that allow profit and purpose to go hand-in-hand? I really think it’s that important.”