Igniting Impact

Enhancing Business Practice and Research Through Greater Collaboration

March 5 - 6, 2020

On March 5 and 6 the Aspen Institute Business & Society Program is partnering with the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan to host an unusual conversation with leading practitioners and scholars. The purpose of the meeting is to explore how business research and business practice can be enhanced by greater collaboration.


The future shape of capitalism, and the role of business in society, are undergoing a seismic upheaval. In August the Business Roundtable declared that the corporation existed to serve stakeholders, not just shareholders. The UN has promulgated a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals that give business a central role in achieving a better world. Profit alone is no longer the singular goal of business. Meanwhile, millennials on average have a more positive view of socialism than capitalism, and tech workers are banding together to demand that their employers practice a more just form of business. Yet this can prove easier said than done. Disaggregated supply chains mean that brand names often find themselves unaware of environmental and human rights abuses happening within their own production process, and online platforms inadvertently enable and broadcast outrages on an industrial scale.

The world demands that business do better, yet businesses often simply don't know how. This is the place for research-based insights for practice.

Business schools are facing their own demands to produce research relevant to solving the problems of practice in business and beyond. Accredited business schools spend upwards of $4 billion annually on research, most of which ends up published in academic journals inaccessible to all but academics with paywall access and a taste for jargon. But across the academic landscape there are growing demands to better connect to practice. More than 40 universities in the US have launched "grand challenge" initiatives aimed at taking on the biggest problems facing society. Within business schools, a move toward "responsible research" has begun to spread globally. And accreditation agencies increasingly demand to see evidence of societal impact from research. Moreover, although many lament the inapplicability of research, in recent years there has been a wave of work aimed at tackling grand challenges, across all the domains of business scholarship -- accounting, finance, marketing, management, operations, and elsewhere. There is, however, little effort at translation.

This meeting aims to bring the demand and the supply for problem-based business research together by highlighting some of the freshest recent insights on pressing current problems. Our premise is that now is the time to identify ways to translate research into insights for practice by bringing scholars and managers together for a progressive dialogue. We aim to create a "circular economy of knowledge" in which practice provides the problems to be addressed, and research provides the insights to be implemented. Our sessions are designed to be interactive dialogues between scholars with research-based expertise, and managers facing challenges, to model what the process can and should look like.