Leo Burke Introduces the Commons to Business Students

It's a pleasure to see Professor Leo Burke is getting some attention for his pioneering work in teaching the commons at..... a business school. In a wonderful profile, Notre Dame Magazine describes Burke's adventures in developing a commons curriculum for students and business executives at the Mendoza College of Business at Notre Dame University. The courses are arguably the first and only such pedagogy about the commons in the world of business. The profile, “A World That Works for Everyone,” was written by Jay Walljasper, my former colleague at On the Commons.

Full disclosure – Leo's a friend. He and I worked together last year in developing an online course, “Introduction to the Global Commons,” which is expected to be available soon on the United Nations Institute for Training and Research website.  When I met up with Leo, he had already launched the Global Commons Initiative at Mendoza College of Business, and was teaching both executive MBA and undergraduate courses in the commons. Leo has also assembled a commons curriculum for the School of Commoning in London.

Why should a business school teach the commons?  Carolyn Woo, until recently the Dean of the Notre Dame business school, told Walljasper:

Understanding the global dimension of business is essential for anyone in the work world today; 2) Managing complex systems, including the interdependent relationships that characterize the commons, will be necessary for tomorrow’s leaders; 3) Safeguarding God’s creation is at the core of the Mendoza College’s purpose; 4) Paying attention to the commons promotes the school’s mission to “ask more of business”; 5) Giving students a wider view of the world on many levels will better prepare them for the future.

Woo, who now heads the humanitarian organization Catholic Relief Services, added: “The culture we live in today is so competitive. There’s this whole idea that there is only one winner, and everyone else loses. We want people to realize that we are not always keeping score, that our capacity to care for others is part of our own growth.”

She also cited the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The right to private property, acquired or received in a just way, does not do away with the original gift of the earth to the whole of mankind.” [No. 2403]

For his part, Leo said: “It’s fundamentally appropriate to examine the commons in a business school, because a lot of what we are doing today to destroy the commons comes from the process of maximizing profit,” which is generally what business schools teach. “That’s not to say that profit in itself is bad, but too often we don’t think enough about what happens in the pursuit of it.”

Leo noted that twenty years ago business schools virtually ignored environmental issues, and now such courses are universal. So now with the commons, he said.  It is time for business schools to start addressing this topic.  Leo: Thanks for leading the way.