Takeaways from the Institute’s Research Seminar on 12 October 2017.

The EU-Asia Institute’s 2017-2018 research seminar series was kicked off on 12 October with a focus on Social Business. It provided an opportunity to listen to highly original presentations of ongoing research work by two internationally recognised scholars and friends of the Institute, Naveed Akhter, professor at Jönköping University and ESSCA research associate, and Camille Baulant, professor at the University of Angers,

Naveed Akhter started with presenting a remarkable single-case study entitled “Prodigies of belief” and focusing on compassion as driver of socially responsible entrepreneurship. Grounded in an inductive methodology approach and the conceptual framework of the “positive organisation”, and empirically realised through extensive ethnographic field work in Pakistan, his research retraced how moral emotions can become overarching values in the development of a large and successful family business over a long period of time. In the case he described, the particular emotion of compassion, based on personal experience of hardship, has become a powerful driver, if not the purpose, of business success itself. Nourished by memories and a recurring object of storytelling, compassion turns profit-making into a means to contribute to a fairer society. One of the most interesting aspects – and, actually, open questions – of his presentation was the difficulty, after several generations, to avoid what may be called “compassion fatigue” and uphold the “activation” of a state of mind beyond a handful of individuals.

The debate, led by discussant Alejandro Agafonow, was strongly focused on methodological issues. It is striking to note that a purely qualitative approach as practised by Naveed in this paper, starts to make its way (again) into mainstream academic publishing. Of course, single case studies always run the risk of being accused of having no representative value, but that’s not their point. Their contribution is a deep understanding (or “thick description”) of complex and infrequent phenomena, and the story presented by Naveed gave exactly this kind of insight.

The second paper of the day was given by Camille Baulant, who very kindly accepted to switch spontaneously to the English language, given the significant number of non-French students attending the seminar. Her presentation about “How Happiness Can Lead to More Efficiency – A New Paradigm for the World Knowledge Economy” brought together a large array of economic theories, which she mobilised to address the well-established disconnection between the rise of economic growth and the rise in happiness or life satisfaction.

Distinguishing her approach from behavioural economics, she compared the “long-run happiness advantage” for individual actors – linked to the development of emotional intelligence (creating new habits, accept and recover from failure, act step-by-step) – with the “long-run competitive advantage for organisations”, founded on protection (through institutions), relationships (networks and long-term vision rather than pure competitiveness), as well as influence (such as positive lobbying).

Discussant Albrecht Sonntag thanked her for a particularly rich and dense paper that enlarged the perspectives of traditional happiness studies, underlining that such original approaches had just been vindicated by the overdue Economics Nobel Prize for Richard Thaler, who was one of the first to build a bridge between reason and emotion in decision-making and strategic planning. What both papers of the day had in common was the call to “put people first” in organisational development, be it as a self-imposed moral obligation, like in Naveed’s enterprise case study, be it with regard to gaining a long-term efficiency advantage, as in Camille’s though-provoking reflections.

The next research seminar of the EU-Asia Institute will take place on the Paris campus, on Monday 13 November.  Watch out on these pages for details!

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