The Power of Stories: A personal story of one summer seminar visit in the Darden School of Business, Charlottesville, USA

October 19, 2018

 

About one year ago, we moved to a new house with my baby girl and my fiancé. We had a vision to create a home, where all of us would flourish and live life with a creative mindset now – and in the future. While it remains to be seen how well this vision will be achieved throughout our life, this vision serves me as a guiding principle in small decisions, in bigger decisions and in the biggest ones, i.e. in making my decisions and choosing my reactions in everyday situations (read: chaos).

One of those decisions I took this summer, when I had the chance to participate in the Summer Institute in Stakeholder Theory in the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, the USA. This meant that for the first time I was going to be apart from my daughter. Before making the decision of leaving, I talked with my friends, childcare specialists, my supervisor and my parents. I felt safe to make the decision of going. The story of African fathers taking their children to the mountains in order to stop the breastfeeding connection with the mother convinced me that I was not doing something extraordinary here if I choose to go.

Gosh, I am so glad and grateful that I did! Darden School of Business and its institute for Business in Society organized an amazing summer seminar gathering together 25 advanced doctoral students and early career researchers in addition to the most prominent thinkers in stakeholder theory, including THE father of stakeholder theory, Edward Freeman, himself.

The purpose of the seminar was to examine the present and the future focus areas of stakeholder theory. The week involved high quality presentations, thought-provoking discussions, constructive feedback to our papers, and workshopping in a positive and highly supportive atmosphere. We shared the common aspiration to define the purpose of business in a responsible manner. With a shared aspiration, we were able to discuss and accept different research interests, methods, and contextual factors. Personally, it was interesting to notice that sustainable development and nature-related research interests, those that we are interested in the B2N project, did not play a major role among researches from the USA, whereas scholars from other countries were promoting more sustainability-oriented research.

In the middle of different discussions and narratives around stakeholder approach, the main takeaway of the seminar started to unfold around the power of language and the stories we tell – to each other and to ourselves. Like Ed Freeman said, theories are like tools consisting of language and words, and there is nothing else but language and narratives we have at the end. Therefore, besides it is important how we perceive the role of business in society and how we orient our research, it is extremely important how we talk about them. While it is necessary to accept different narratives and their role in the big picture, choosing how we examine and talk about business today affects how business and business theories develop in the long run.

While returning home turned out to be harder than I thought, with the long-term perspective, I am sure that I can tell my daughter how important it is to follow your heart, do something that is meaningful to you personally and has potential to impact the society at large.

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