Heading for Greener Grass: First steps on a long road forward

In a series of focuses on how the Council’s students view CSR, Seamus Dufurrena, PhD student at ESSEC Business School, shares a 3-part story of his path to awareness, responsible business and a wider purpose.

3 continents and as many paths to awareness

Seamus Dufurrena is the type of young man who possesses a certain sparkle that shines through his words, way of thinking and actions. A sparkle that speaks of conviction but also of intelligence, understanding and, despite his young age, experience of the world gleaned from what he has seen on his travels.

Growing up in a small town in rural Nevada in the U.S. Seamus Dufurrena, now a PhD student at ESSEC Business School in France, describes his academic background as the result of several serendipitous events that transpired at various moments in his life. And like many an adventure, it began with hardly a notion of what career he would eventually like to pursue but an interest. That interest was politics and policy. An interest of the type, as he started studies in political science at university and aiming for a horizon as a lawyer, that triggered an awareness that he wasn’t really interested in it at all. The reason? For Dufurrena it was a question of values and of purpose – too many manipulators trying to design policies that favoured certain groups often at the expense of others. Instead, he decided to change course and study Spanish, something that he saw as a more tangible skill that was growing in importance in the U.S. given the changing demographics and it was upon graduation that a second major turning point on his path to CSR occurred – the financial crisis of 2008-2009 that saw his home state in especially bad economic state.

For Seamus Dufurrena, the crisis seemed to be a consequence of unethical business practices among the country’s largest financial firms and the notion stuck with him. These events and the resulting suffering economy led him to once again change tack and head for greener grass: this time Latin America where he could refine his language skills and gain international work experience at the same time. He ended up in Colombia, and eventually work with a business school there that took the notion of ‘responsible business’ very seriously. ‘I think it was there that I first became aware of CSR and the idea that business as a zero-sum game was a false concept,’ states Dufurrena. Among the school’s many initiatives were programmes that sought to develop small Colombian businesses utilising the knowledge acquired by its business students who would work for them as consultants. For Dufurrena it was a rare win-win scenario in which the students gained practical experience and learned to challenge the zero-sum notion while small firms gained access to rich business knowledge and insight.

‘I was in charge of developing and managing a global version in which international students collaborated with the Colombian students to support the participant companies.,’ asserts Seamus Dufurrena. ‘These initiatives were part of the school’s own portfolio of CSR practices and also provided rich data for its researchers to further understand small business and, indeed, responsible business.’ It was during this time that the nature of the work and collaboration with the academics in managing the initiative inspired him to go on to further studies – this time in France, first with an MBA in Responsible Management at Audencia Business School and then to pursue a PhD at ESSEC Business School, one of Europe’s leading higher education institutions.

Making sense

‘The MBA formalized my understanding of business and provided me with a breadth of knowledge with which to advance my career. I also undertook a project with two colleagues we called “MBA Meets the Real World” in which we sought to understand what CSR was through the lens of industry managers,’ affirms Dufurrena. ‘So, we got a camera and, leveraging the school’s alumni network, began scheduling on-camera interviews with executives in renowned firms such as Louis Vuitton, Galeries Lafayette, Manitou, and Accenture as well as in other organisations of a non-profit nature such as UNESCO, the World Wildlife Fund, the OECD, and the Minority Business Development Agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, among others.  We sought answers to three fundamental questions: 1) What is CSR? 2) What was the (respondent’s) organisation doing about it? and 3) What can we do to undertake our own careers responsibly? This was a remarkable experience and we obtained a lot of content from these organisations which we then shared with our colleagues and the world via YouTube along with a template for future MBA cohorts to go out and perform their own research. This process of going out to the field to collect data on a topic that I cared about was the highlight of my MBA experience and further solidified my desire to pursue a career in research, rather than return to administration.’

At ESSEC, Seamus Dufurrena’s nascent academic career takes a further step as a PhD student within the Accounting and Management Control Department at ESSEC studying management control systems and their use in implementing CSR in companies.

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