Bridging business and ethics

The inaugural Scotiabank Ethics in Action event

- November 15, 2013

Student organizers present Phil Fontaine with his Scotiabank Ethical Leadership Award. (EIA photo)
Student organizers present Phil Fontaine with his Scotiabank Ethical Leadership Award. (EIA photo)

Dalhousie welcomed over 100 business and commerce students this past weekend from schools as far away as North Carolina for the inaugural Scotiabank Ethics in Action event.

"The event was built on the foundation of a business ethics case competition that Dalhousie students ran for the past nine years, but everything else we had to create,” says Rebecca Rogez, a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) student and one of the organizers who was involved from the early stages of planning. “My hope now is that it will grow to be the capstone event at the Rowe School of Business.”   

The Scotiabank Ethics in Action event featured a case competition, a conference, a video and essay contest, and the presentation of the Scotiabank Ethical Leadership Award. It was made possible by a $1.5 million donation from Scotiabank, with the goal of instilling in today’s business students the values that will allow them to make ethical decisions in their future careers.

“Ethics may not necessarily seem like the shiniest and most attractive topic,” admits student organizer and MBA candidate Brittany Kerr, but she says it’s actually one her fellow students were eager to engage with.

“The topic of ethical leadership interested me, as I want my integrity to be a central part of my professional development and the type of leader I become. When I look back on my career, I want to be proud of my decisions and know that in the face of adversity, I did the right thing.”

Kerr says Dalhousie was the perfect location for the event, aligning with the Rowe School of Business’s commitment to values-based management.

New perspectives

Dal students not only organized the event but also performed exceptionally well at it. MBA student Irina Bojinescu took home the prize for the top essay, which looked at the perspective different cultures have on ethical behaviour.  

“Being born into Romanian family during a time of political instability and growing up in Canada, I have a bit of a different perspective about ethical behaviour,” she says. “A businessman exchanging laundered funds for other goods is deemed unethical in North America, but in the decade following the fall of the Iron Curtain, many Romanian citizens struggled to feed their families since many of their basic human rights were revoked.”

The essay competition allowed her the opportunity to emphasize to fellow students how culture and context play a major role in what behaviour is considered ethical.

“It’s easy to decide what is right and wrong from an objective point of view, but when actually faced with that situation the choices are much more difficult to make. When operating in different countries business, leaders face a myriad of tough decisions in establishing standards for ethical behaviour for the good of the people,” she says, suggesting leaders think carefully about what does and does not constitute ethical behaviour.

The case competition component of the event allowed students to place themselves in complex situations similar to those they may face as business leaders. Each team was given an ethical dilemma and asked to find a solution, which they then presented to judges. According to participant Eric Fleming, an MBA student, the experience reaffirmed the importance of a sound ethical approach to business and decisions within a business environment.

“Ethics in business is about more than just ensuring that your company stays off the media’s front page,” he says. “It is about treating and engaging all stakeholders as ends rather than means. It is about making a meaningful difference in the society in which you are operating, about making sure that you are enhancing the quality of living of those that you affect and about creating long-term value for the stakeholders that your firm impacts.”

A successful event

The Scotiabank Ethical Leadership Award was presented at the opening ceremony to former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nation Phil Fontaine and Sir Graham Day, a Canadian and British business executive and lawyer from Nova Scotia.

Read more: A shared commitment (Scotiabank Ethical Leadership Award recipients)

Through being introduced to leaders like these award recipients, organizer Rogez says she “hope[s] that participants learned that ethical leadership and business is something that you have to do everyday and is not just a soft topic word that people throw around.”

Kerr was also extremely pleased with how the event went.

“The topic of ethics should be at the front of our minds both when we are in school and when we go out in the working world, and I think this event really instilled a sense of ethical behaviour in us this weekend,” she says.


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