On May 1, the Wilmette Institute is launching its first business-oriented course Achieving Moral Excellence in Business.
A nine-week course, Achieving Moral Excellence will ask learners to rethink, among other things, “the purpose of business; examine the meaning of such spiritual and moral values as unity, justice, nobility, and service; and explore how these values and operational principles such as consultation apply in a business environment.” A collaboration between the Wilmette Institute and the Baha’i-inspired organization ebbf (Ethical Business Building the Future), it is the Institute’s first foray into applying a Bahá’í perspective to the world of business. The faculty consists of Drs. Nabil Elias and Jean Parker. The Wilmette Institute put several questions to Dr. Elias, who, in the spirit of consultation, went over them with his co-faculty Dr. Parker.
Wilmette Institute: What do you expect learners to get out of the course?
Dr. Elias: The typical course on business ethics deals with what not to do—primarily how to avoid business scandals. Interest in business-ethics courses goes into high gear after a series of wide-ranging business scandals. Some corporations tout the values they uphold, but history is witness to corporations who have marketed their integrity only to be the focus of serious scandals because the tone at the top was to win at all costs. Instead of focusing on extrinsic ethical systems imposed by laws, regulations, or corporate codes of ethics, Achieving Moral Excellence in Business focuses on intrinsic moral and spiritual values as it invites learners to develop a new business paradigm that challenges commonly held assumptions and fuses business concepts with such values. Each of the learners will have a different set of take-aways as each attempts to take their own actions in their workplace and then reflect upon their actions. Such actions can vary in scope from wearing a genuine smile at the workplace to starting a dream enterprise. Actions, however initially simple or small, can have an unexpected impact that gradually transforms the workplace. Dr. Jean Parker and I will encourage learners to identify the elements of their own “evolving” conceptual framework, which guides their actions in their own workplace. This course emphasizes learning in action, and the faculty will be available to accompany learners on their individual learning journeys.
WI: Why do you feel it is an important course for those working in any profession (business, marketing, academia, restaurant work, child care, and so on)?
Dr. Elias: Whether one works in a business, a not-for-profit, a profession, or a trade or is a business or a social entrepreneur or works from or in the home, she or he are potentially a change agent that can contribute to transforming the workplace or work environment to bring their full self to work and allow others to do likewise. Many report that they are unable to bring their full self to work; they leave the most important part of themselves behind to avoid a conflict between what they are asked to do at work and what they can offer. The new paradigm of business would find ways to tap and release the latent capacities that people leave behind when they go to work. Dr. Parker and I will make ourselves available to accompany each learner on her or his own individual journey to transform their work environment within practical constraints toward bringing one’s entire self to the workplace.
WI: How do you feel the course adds to the missions of the Wilmette Institute and ebbf?
We think that the collaboration between the Wilmette Institute and ebbf will leverage the strengths of both. While a few ebbf members have for several years been teaching courses for the Wilmette Institute on a variety of subjects, this is the first course where Wilmette Institute faculty consulted and worked with ebbf in designing and developing a course. We hope this broad survey course is the beginning of the Institute’s and ebbf’s collaboration in offering a series of courses on business and management that can be in more depth on a particular subject and infuse practical business concerns with spiritual and moral principles to contribute to developing a prosperous, just, and sustainable civilization. Such courses are sure to be of interest to both the Wilmette Institute’s learners and the membership of ebbf. Promoting relevant Wilmette Institute courses to the ebbf community will offer a new venue for ebbf members to continue to learn in action.
WI: You mention a new paradigm of business management. Please explain what this means.
Dr. Elias: While the course deals with achieving moral excellence in business, moral excellence is not equated with ethics in business. The course re-examines the purpose of business and explores applying concepts such as nobility, unity, justice, and consultation in the workplace. It also re-examines concepts of governance, leadership, and power. This is a broader view of moral values than can be found anywhere on “business ethics.”
Dr. Elias is business faculty emeritus at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, and its former MBA director. In 2018, ebbf appointed him its Dean of Education. Dr. Parker is on the faculty of the Department of Nonprofit Management of Regis University in Denver, Colorado. For ebbf, she is the producer and host of “Discovering How.”