By Carlos Chicas Berti. Photo by David Howells.

This summer the Centre for Social and Sustainable Innovation will welcome its new director, Dr. Natalie Slawinski. Slawinski will be joining Gustavson from Newfoundland, where she currently serves as a professor of strategic management at Memorial University’s Faculty of Business Administration and director of its MBA in social enterprise and entrepreneurship. Slawinski is also a co-founder and advisor to Memorial’s Centre for Social Enterprise.

Ahead of her move to Vancouver Island, Dr. Natalie Slawinski, participated in a Q&A with us about her research work and plans for the future of the CSSI.

What topics or issues does your research explore? 

I have been studying business sustainability, temporality and paradox for over a decade. A paradox that drove my early research is the temporal tension between a company’s short-term financial goals and society’s long-term interests. I found that this tension represents a critical barrier to organizational action on climate change and other sustainability issues. More recently I have expanded my research to examine the role of social enterprises in advancing the resilience of communities. I have spent over a decade conducting participatory research on Shorefast, a non-profit that runs a number of place-based social enterprises on Fogo Island, Newfoundland, designed to advance the cultural and economic interests of the community. Together with my research team, we are expanding this research to other coastal communities in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Your research delves into how organizations respond to social and environmental challenges, what do you think the role of business and business education is in these times of a global pandemic and a climate crisis? 

During these times of cascading and inter-related global sustainability crises, I think business can be a major player in re-imagining and transforming our current system. Over a decade ago, I learned first hand what this could look like when I first met Zita Cobb, a retired business executive who had recently launched a bold initiative to revitalize Fogo Island, a remote Newfoundland community devastated by the collapse of the cod fishery. I had barely been introduced to her when she said to me provocatively, “the problem is that you in business schools are teaching all the wrong things”. That prompted me to spend the next decade not only studying Shorefast’s efforts to reimagine capitalism but thinking about how to transform business schools to address our 21st Century sustainability challenges. There’s no quick and easy solution. But I think business schools need to continuously question how we are contributing to current sustainability problems, and what our role is to address these issues. I think business schools need to teach students to be comfortable “living in the rhythm of opposites”, as Zita often says. For example, instead of choosing between advancing the interests of society or advancing the interests of business, we need to find ways to do both and that’s not easy. But when we view these competing demands as interrelated, business schools can help to generate creative solutions. And importantly, we must work with other sectors to find solutions, because no one sector has all the answers.

What do you do in your free time, and what are you looking forward to most about living in Victoria?

I’m a nature lover, so any time I have free time, I try to get out in nature even if only for a short walk in a park. In the summer, my husband, daughter and I try to go camping and hiking as much as we can. We also love to swim outdoors. One of the things I’m most looking forward to about living in Victoria is spending time exploring Vancouver Island’s old growth forests and swimming in the ocean. While Newfoundland is ruggedly beautiful, the trees are tiny in comparison and the ocean is normally too cold to swim in. I am also really looking forward to learning about the people, history and culture of the place.

What most excites you about coming to lead the CSSI?

I’m so excited to join the amazing folks at the CSSI and Gustavson to continue to push the boundaries of sustainability research, business education and community engagement. I’m so honoured to have been invited to lead these efforts while exploring new avenues for Gustavson to make a difference to people, places and planet.