Project on Business and Society

With a direct gift of $100,000 to the College of Business and additional significant funding from donors the Academy has helped launch a new Project on Business and Society at the University. This project will allow professors and students at the University of Illinois and other institutions the chance to explore “the big picture” of how businesses, the presence or lack of a market economy, and human well-being and social progress all interact. Contrary to popular discussions and political debates there are not separate spheres of life: one for the economy, driven by greed and selfishness; and another for social progress, driven by fair-mindedness and generosity. Debates about economic policy or policies toward business by definition include impacts on individuals, families, and communities. They are all part of the larger fabric of modern life and cannot be separated and rearranged like pieces of a puzzle. To understand these complex relationships and to promote a better society and brighter future a multitude of disciplines and approaches needs to be taken that transcends traditional academic boundaries or ideologies.

Too often political, popular, and even academic debate focus on over-simplified historical narratives and the rosy, overly-optimistic promises of proposed “solution” to society’s challenges. The process of economic growth and the wealth and convenience that have come to be expected with it are taken for granted as normal in modern societies. But taking for granted positive outcomes and focusing discourse only on critical challenges masks the real story. How was progress and wealth achieved? What methods of economic, social, and political organization and competition led to the results that are being studied and either praised or criticized? How did those unique processes differently shape culture, society, and politics in various countries around the world and even within different regions of many countries like America?

To understand the interconnectedness of all aspects of society and the economy new approaches are needed. And new questions must be asked and explored. Thanks to visionary donor support the Academy is helping to build a Project on Business and Society to help identify and answer those questions. The goal is to work across traditional divisions, disciplines, and boundaries and ask big questions and look for big answers at a time when society seems more divided and narrowly focused than ever.  Public universities and scholars have a responsibility to the society they serve to advance knowledge and share important insights with the public. The Project on Business and Society aims to do that in new and innovative ways.