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ASU organizational leadership course and professor earn prominent Aspen Institute award

The Aspen Institute recognized 9 business courses that respond to the global crises of 2020

 Primary tropical rainforest in Borneo

In Elizabeth Castillo's award-winning course, "students learn how to develop and integrate multiple forms of capital into a business model, resources that don’t show up on a balance sheet: people, nature, relationships, knowledge, governance and ethics.” Her research has been inspired by a decade of work as director of foundation relations at the San Diego Natural History Museum, where she came to see nature as a model for organizational development and vitality. Photo by Ken Shono on Unsplash

October 20, 2020

Arizona State University Professor Elizabeth Castillo has been awarded a 2020 Aspen Institute’s Ideas Worth Teaching award, a global prize for innovation and thought leadership that transforms business education.

The Aspen Institute’s Business and Society ProgramThe Aspen Institute Business and Society Program (Aspen BSP), founded in 1998, works with business executives and scholars to align business decisions and investments with the long-term health of society — and the planet. recognized nine courses — and the faculty who teach them — that are providing the context, skills and decision-making capabilities managers need to lead in an increasingly complex business environment and world. 

Castillo’s course OGL 260: Resource Allocation in Organizations was among four courses honored from universities in the United States. Winners were selected from a highly competitive pool of nominations by Aspen Institute staff in consultation with academic advisers.

“With each new headline, 2020 has underscored the need for fresh thinking on issues at the intersection of business and society,” said Claire Preisser, Aspen Business and Society Program adviser. “Whether it’s the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic crisis it triggered or protests for racial justice, this year is an urgent call-to-action to reset business norms so that, in rebuilding our economy, we rebuild for better human — and not only financial  outcomes.”

Castillo, who joined ASU as an assistant professor in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts’ Faculty of Leadership and Integrative Studies in 2016, first taught the award-winning course in spring 2018. The class is a critical requirement in the bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership. 

In a press release announcing the honorees, Aspen BSP Executive Director Judy Samuelson underscored the power of scholarly ideas to influence the practice of capitalism.

“Fifty years ago … the New York Times published Milton Friedman’s famous essay, which called on executives to focus solely on profits and share price. This became and remained the animating spirit of business, markets and business schools,” Samuelson said. “But times are changing. The teachers and scholars we celebrate here are vanguards of a new animating spirit — one that reveals for students the profound connections between 2020’s headlines and business decision-making and equips them to make decisions that help build a more inclusive economy.”

Indeed, the three fundamental takeaways of OGL 260, according to Castillo, reflect that spirit: “Resource decisions always entail value choices (what we believe is worth investing in); resources shape power dynamics and structure our society, for better or for worse; and innovation and prosperity depend on an economy rooted in reciprocity,” she said.

“Students learn how to develop and integrate multiple forms of capital into a business model, resources that don’t show up on a balance sheet: people, nature, relationships, knowledge, governance and ethics.”

This year’s Ideas Worth Teaching Award winners were announced during a live, virtual event that featured a conversation with Kerwin Charles, the Indra K. Nooyi Dean of the Yale School of Management, and Dan Schulman, CEO and president of PayPal. The two leaders discussed the skills and frameworks needed to build a more just and sustainable version of capitalism and the role of business education in supporting systemic change. 

Castillo's scholarship has been in the forefront of inclusive capitalism since she completed her doctoral degree in leadership management at the University of San Diego. She has published in academic journals like The Leadership Quarterly and professional publications such as Nonprofit Quarterly, where several pieces have been recognized among the “most influential of the year” by editors. At ASU she also serves as faculty directory of the graduate student chapter of Conscious Capitalism Arizona

Building a more inclusive, holistic capitalism focused on broader human outcomes isn’t a passing interest for this scholar, avid hiker and nature photographer.

“My mission is to repair the world through scholarship that promotes thriving organizations, fulfilled people, connected communities — and a world we can be proud to pass on to our children,” she said.

ASU assistant professor of organizational leadership Elizabeth Castillo

ASU assistant professor of organizational leadership Elizabeth Castillo's academic scholarship research is inspired by her 20-year management career in nonprofit and social enterprise organizations.

Here, Castillo shares some additional information about OGL 260: Resource Allocations in Organizations.

Question: What prompted you to design this course?

Answer: Most resource allocation courses focus on a single type of capital: financial. This bias promotes underinvestment in other essential resources needed for long-term organizational success, such as people, nature, relationships, knowledge and ethics.

The course showcases alternatives to short-term thinking and strategy based on minimizing costs and maximizing immediate financial returns. It surveys how businesses rely on many types of capital resources, such as human, social, natural and reputational, and how leaders can develop these synergistically to create sustainable value for business and society. 

The course also challenges 20th-century thinking about firms existing solely to maximize shareholder wealth. Through the lens of social accounting and multiple capitals, it looks at firms as value creation ecosystems that create value for, and are accountable to, multiple stakeholders within and beyond the organization. 

Q:  What kinds of competencies can students gain from the course?

A: Student learning outcomes include being able to explain the various forms of tangible and intangible capitals used in organizations; how these resources can be developed and accounted for individually and holistically; how multiple capitals function as both inputs and outputs in an organization’s business model; how sustainable business models are strategically designed to return some outputs back to the firm to become new inputs (e.g., circular economy); and how organizations are coupled to the external environment.

Another learning objective is being able to differentiate between value creation (producing benefits for stakeholders) and value extraction (creating profit at the expense of others). 

Competencies the students develop include systems thinking, stakeholder analysis, business model development, integrative thinking and understanding complex science principles such as self-organization and emergence.

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