Can international schools help to produce ethical stakeholders of the future?

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The last few months have certainly been testing for everyone regardless of which continent they may be based. The tendency of us all to be self-absorbed and often consumed by a vast array of electronic and digital devices has been replaced by a genuine interest in those around us and for their wellbeing. Covid-19 has altered how we think, how we live our lives and how we interact and treat others but, is it something that is here to stay?

How we act in the future is very much dependent on the next generation, and this often comes down to what they learn in schools and at home. International schools in Hong Kong, just like in other countries around the globe have always encouraged pupils to beware of those around them. Students come from different regions of the world, so achieving a broader outlook on society and those around them is, in some ways, easier. However, now more than ever, they can play a role in changing the direction of the future.

Who are “stakeholders”?

Stakeholders are people who have a personal interest in a business, project or even an event. They can act as an individual, a group or can represent an organisation such as a government agency. They will have an interest in the outcome and the success or otherwise of the business or project. They can be investors in the business such as shareholders, employees, clients or suppliers as well as being people from the wider community. Stakeholders can be either internal or external to the business and have a positive or a negative impact.

Where does ethics fit in?

A common criticism of many businesses or projects is that they are money or profit-orientated and have little consideration for those around them. Ethical stakeholders tend to look at the wider picture and how decisions will impact on others, including local business, the environment or even human rights. They appreciate the role that profit plays and the need to be innovative and forward-looking, but they also consider other implications when deciding the direction that they wish to take.

Most people like to think that they take an ethical stance, although, in practice, self-interest often takes precedence. While this is certainly not the case with everyone, it is an accusation of many business owners. Indeed, the converse argument is that these people are only successful because they have the drive and determination and their success also benefits others. Of course, everyone will have their own opinion and stance on this.

Why are ethics important?

Business must first and foremost be run to make a profit. Economies are reliant on commerce, big and small to survive and sometimes tough decisions need to be made, and sacrifices need to be made. Of course, if everyone “looks after number one” this doesn’t work, and the world would become a sombre place to live and work. Those around us, the environment and other factors must be taken into consideration when making any business decision and losing sight of this can have severe consequences.

Covid-19 and a shift in attitudes

Many countries have adopted a relatively socialist stance in their handling of the Covid-19 outbreak, even those with governments who would generally be viewed as being more conservative or right-wing in their political views. On the whole, this approach has been welcomed with government borrowing in many countries reaching record highs. The approach has been unheard of outside of wartime, and it has definitely led to a shift in attitudes around the world.

International schools

International schools have always encouraged students to be independent which could be interpreted as being conservative with a small “c”. However, as we touched upon, the diversity in international schools also makes pupils more aware of the world around them and the impact that decisions have on others. With the shift in global attitudes caused by the coronavirus pandemic, it is anticipated that international schools will now play a prominent role when it comes to adopting more ethical beliefs.

While it is almost certain that these schools will continue to encourage children to be independent and strive to achieve their goals, ethics may come more into focus. The economic impact of Covid-19 is there for all to witness, so finding an appropriate balance is what is required. Without a doubt, international schools have a huge role to play as they start to reopen and as we look more to the future. It is likely that we will take more of an interest in others and that this has been the wakeup call that many needed.

The role of ethical shareholders

All businesses need to bring new blood on board to ensure that their objectives are in line with public opinion and meeting the needs of their customers and clients. In most cases, this will be the younger generations and being in tune with their thoughts, beliefs and attitudes is essential to the success of the business. Those at school now will have been impacted as much as anyone, and it is inevitable that it will have shaped their perspectives. It may have confirmed their previously held beliefs or shaped new ideas – what is important is what they do next.

Ethical shareholders are likely to push businesses to look at the bigger picture, appreciating that while profit is essential, the bottom line isn’t the only thing that we should be focusing on. Green issues and social awareness will undoubtedly be more towards the front of people’s thoughts, and businesses that are aligned to these attitudes are the ones that are likely to reap the rewards. It could easily become a win-win situation for all concerned.

What will the future hold?

No one knows what the future will be like post-Covid-19, but most assume that we will become used to a “new normal”. The people who will be best equipped to deal with this change are the younger generations, and many of those are in international schools in Hong Kong and indeed the rest of the world. International schools can produce new ethical stakeholders which will drive the future.