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British Academy launches new £1.5m research into the future of business

News •
  • A new programme of research and engagement to examine the purpose of business and its role in society.
  • Convening UK and global business leaders, politicians, policy-makers, and academics.
  • Delivering research of the highest quality in a range of fields - from history and philosophy to economics and geography - to inform policy.

The British Academy, the UK’s national body for humanities and social sciences, today launches The Future of the Corporation (FOTC) – a major three-year research and engagement programme, exploring the purpose of business and its role in society.

Why now?

We are on the edge of a new industrial revolution - rapid developments in artificial intelligence and virtual reality are challenging the very nature of business and work. The gig economy is disrupting the relationships between employer and employee, and the idea of shareholder value as the main measure of business success is under increasing scrutiny. The British Academy sees erosion of trust and perception of corporate irresponsibility as some of the biggest challenges the world faces and business leaders must address. 

The Future of the Corporation will deliver £1.5m of research, funded by a consortium of partners including businesses, charitable trusts and foundations, and individuals. Research will be delivered in two phases; an initial landscape review on themes including public trust in business, corporate purpose, regulation, and taxation; leading to a second phase of research that hone the overarching and recurring issues across these themes and draw out key policy recommendations for a variety of stakeholders. Expertise will be drawn from not just traditional business-facing disciplines such as economics, but also from the Academy’s depth of knowledge across the humanities and social sciences such as philosophy, history, and theology. This examination of the Future of the Corporation through multiple lenses will result in a comprehensive, interdisciplinary analysis.

Colin Mayer, British Academy Fellow and Professor of Management Studies at the Said Business School, leads the programme, and is supported by a Steering and Corporate Advisory Group of academics, advisors, and leaders from the business community. The Steering and Advisory Groups are designed to ensure the programme engages effectively with the business community and will have impact.

Professor Colin Mayer said: “Since the financial crash in 2008 we’ve seen widespread concern within society about business irresponsibility. If trust is to be regained, businesses, shareholders, educators, and government need evidence to understand how faith in business can be restored. The Future of the Corporation research will provide an evidence-base to support future business developments and new sustainable corporate models that adapt to the changing and increasingly technological nature of work.”

Mustafa Suleyman, Co-Founder & Head of Applied AI at Google Deepmind, and FOTC Corporate Advisory Group member added: "While it's increasingly easy to see how businesses can make a positive social impact, it's far harder to ensure that they are truly accountable to society itself and serve the broader public interest beyond simply their shareholders. Traditional forms of corporate governance have been struggling for years, and technology risks creating ever-larger imbalances of power between organisations and the people they are meant to serve. Many people around the world are already working to invent new mechanisms for accountability, and I hope that this major research project from the British Academy will help provoke further answers and rally support for change."

Why the British Academy?

The British Academy is ideally placed to lead this project and to act as a catalyst for international influence and impact on business practice and policymaking. 

With a Fellowship of over 1,300 eminent academics in the humanities and the social sciences, and expertise in awarding research funding to the very best researchers anywhere in the world, the Academy will nurture and stimulate the kind of interdisciplinary thinking necessary to tackle this global challenge. 

 Furthermore, the Academy’s convening power enables it to bring together academics, policymakers, politicians, media, business leaders, NGO leaders, think tanks, opinion formers and the interested and informed public to achieve the interactive thinking that is needed to effect change.

The Future of the Corporation is part of the British Academy’s Challenge of Change series, focusing on understanding and addressing some of the biggest issues facing the world today. The research will be complemented by an engagement programme, drawing together business leaders from the UK and overseas, policy makers, regulators, economic and social commentators, and governments both at home and abroad. 

To find otu more about The Future of the Corporation, visit www.britishacademy.ac.uk/future-corporation-about 

To receive the Future of the Corporation e-newsletter, please email Kate Rosser Frost, Project Manager on k.rosserfrost@britac.ac.uk.

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