20 July 2022

ASEAN Master in Sustainability Management Series #4: Behind the Immense Success of the ASEAN Master in Sustainability Management

AUN Writer Team

By Sabina Ma, AUN Intern

In Series #3: Continuing the Dialogue with the Scholarship Awardees, the AUN Secretariat team highlighted the sentiments of chosen scholarship awardees of the ASEAN Master in Sustainable Management. This time, the article demonstrates the academic perspectives of the esteemed faculty tasked to mould a new generation of ASEAN leaders in this period of rapid change.

Beginning of the programme

The ASEAN Master in Sustainability Management Programme would not have become a reality without the collaborative effort from the Norwegian government after UGM submitted a proposal to establish this programme in 2018, according to Prof. Dr. Didi Achjari, Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Business (FEB) UGM.

Prof. Dr. Eduardos Tandelilin, Programme Director of Master of Management FEB UGM, visited different Norwegian universities to pitch the programme to them and ask for their support. This made it easier for UGM to obtain the endorsement of this programme from the Norwegian government —the first of its kind in the ASEAN region.

The faculty had hoped that graduates will emerge from the programme with a sense of altruism, empowerment, and environmental activism and will be very well-equipped to work in both the public and private sectors. With these aspirations in mind, the screening committee scrutinised a list of about 300 applicants and came up with shortlists before ultimately accepting only 22 students.

According to Prof. Dr. Tandelilin, what makes this programme special is the diverse backgrounds of the professors teaching it. “There are some professors from the Faculties of Forestry, Engineering, Geography, Agriculture, and Law… so this is a very unique programme.” He added that the programme would not have succeeded if not for the passion of both lecturers and students, which is the most crucial driving force behind it all.

Dr. Rocky Adiguna — currently serving as both the programme coordinator of the ASEAN Master in Sustainability Management and the deputy director of the MBA programme at UGM — mentioned that although the programme is still relatively new, its interdisciplinary nature brings together many others who share the same vision for sustainable ASEAN development as the faculty at UGM. As such, the university has established a good network among AUN Member Universities and successfully connects students from all over the ASEAN region.

On the challenges of teaching

For Dr. Rangga Almahendra, an economics lecturer at UGM, “sustainability is all about improving our quality of life, and most importantly it is for the society, not only for now but also for our future generations.” Having taught the Strategic Management course, he believes that “the business of business is not only about business… every business must have reasons beyond making money, maximising value, or beyond making a profit.” He hopes his students learn how to allocate scarce resources more responsibly and without compromising the quality of life or competitive advantages: “... there is something more important than profit, which is a benefit.” In addition, he believes that the ASEAN Master in Sustainability Management has great potential as a globally taught course and invites all students with a knack for leadership and forward thinking to apply for the course.

Dr. Rr Tur Nastiti, also an economics lecturer at UGM, stresses the importance of people in sustainability: goals must be shared, and prosperity is something that is achieved together. Teaching the Leadership and Organisational Behaviour course, she enjoys the discourse that arises from each class thanks to the myriad of rich experiences her students bring forth and hopes that after the MBA, students will be able to manage the people they work with well to achieve the specific level of productivity they need to be operating at to succeed. Like Dr. Almahendra, her biggest challenge is integrating sustainability into the curriculum: what kind of contributions need to be made, and, from a leadership and organisational perspective, what kind of leader is needed to make those contributions happen and last for future generations to enjoy?

Dr. Luluk Lusiantoro, who teaches Technology and Operations Management, and Dr. Dian Kartika Rahajeng, who teaches Business Ethics, share similar struggles as it’s not always easy to find real-life examples that can be taught in class — most of the global sustainability movement is still very west-oriented. Hence, there are times when it becomes challenging to find relatable Asian examples. However, they are determined to show their students how some concepts can stand the test of time: some cases that are 10 or 20 years old are still applicable to today’s lessons on sustainability, and sometimes, it’s a pleasant surprise to finally be able to give the seemingly ordinary ideas we grew up with formal names.

Dr. Lusiantoro also mentioned how challenging it is to deal with the contradictions between business and sustainability. Small businesses make up most of the economy, and the owners of these businesses don’t have time to think about sustainability when they’re worried about living to see the next day. Therefore, educators must always remind students of the bigger goal of saving society and the planet from the consequences of poor past decisions.

About the students

Regardless of the subjects they teach, all professors can agree on one thing: the academe plays the most critical role in helping students think critically and creatively to build businesses that will continue to cater to future generations. Thus, the esteemed educator-interviewees couldn’t help but beam with pride as they shared some of their most memorable moments while teaching the ASEAN Masters in Sustainability Management classes during the interview.

Dr. Rahajeng said that being part of the team teaching these specialised subjects brings her pleasant surprises every day. “I am honoured to know my students; they are the most inspiring and are also the ones teaching me… it’s not just about integrating it all into one big principle.” Dr. Nastiti agreed, praising the students who consistently perform brilliantly and expressing her hope for more students to join the programme and be part of the new generation of leaders that will come out of it. She also enjoys listening to the stories each student has to share and believes that being part of the community built by the ASEAN Master in Sustainability Management is definitely worth being proud of.

Dr. Lusiantoro added that being part of a bustling region of opportunity like Southeast Asia makes being part of a programme such as this even more exciting. He stressed that the potential of both natural and man-made resources that the region can contribute to the world’s economy is huge, so a programme like the ASEAN Master in Sustainability Management is perfect for driving essential discussions that will help future leaders make better decisions for the long haul. However, for the programme to continue flourishing, both professors and students must continue to support each other and uphold the commitment to work hand-in-hand for a better future.

How can the AUN better support this degree?

The ASEAN Master in Sustainability Management is a degree built by collaborative learning and community empowerment — the idea would never have become a reality without the joint efforts of the relevant parties. Dr. I Made Andi Arsana, the Head of the Office of International Affairs at UGM, agrees that the programme has provided a new, brilliant way to bridge Southeast Asia’s future leaders. Nevertheless, he believes that there is still much room for opportunities to maximise technology to make the learning experience more authentic and accessible, such as by using virtual reality (VR) and by capitalising on experience-enriching partnerships with different institutions and industries to make students as future-ready as possible.

Future direction and collaborations in Southeast Asia

According to Dr. Adiguna, UGM intends to transform the ASEAN Master in Sustainability Management programme from a concentration into its own regular programme so that more students can apply for it. Prof. Dr. Achjari added that UGM expects to continue being able to offer this programme that will surely increase in significance as both a catalyst for change and an avenue for networking and collaboration among ASEAN countries. Furthermore, Prof. Dr. Tandelilin and Dr. Adiguna reminded us that as long as there’s a will, there’s a way—by working together and building each other’s competencies up, even more so through this programme, anyone with a passion for transformative sustainable leadership can apply to the programme and—hopefully—eventually be a guiding light for the ASEAN that will be ready for any kind of tomorrow.