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INSEAD’s first Executive-in-Residence calls for paradigm shift in sustainability reporting


INSEAD’s first Executive-in-Residence calls for paradigm shift in sustainability reporting

INSEAD’s first Executive-in-Residence calls for paradigm shift in sustainability reporting

An accountant embraces the spirit of lifelong learning through his efforts to effect change in business reporting.

As The Business School for the World, INSEAD is known for taking research from knowledge to practice. But the school is also closely intertwined with several “practice to research” narratives – most recently that of Luis Perera-Aldama, a public accountant who was awarded his PhD at the age of 72.

Having made the transition to academia towards the end of his accounting career, Perera-Aldama’s wish is that his research – enabled by Emeritus Professor Luk Van Wassenhove and other members of the INSEAD community – will make its way back to practice. 

His goal: to change how we assess companies’ performance from a societal perspective.

Accounting meets corporate social responsibility

As an audit practitioner and a pioneer in the field of sustainability advisory practice, Perera-Aldama discovered the corporate social responsibility (CSR) movement and ideas late in his career. Driven by his interest in questions around the role of business in society, he wrote about and shared his ideas, which led to a new career trajectory.

In 2008, Perera-Aldama met Van Wassenhove, then the director of the INSEAD Social Innovation Centre (ISIC), and Frank Brown, former PwC global advisory leader and Dean of INSEAD at the time, when he presented his work at an European Academy of Business in Society conference in the United Kingdom. His deep interest in the topic of CSR was very much aligned with the goal of the ISIC, which was to produce knowledge to help businesses translate environmental and social demands into sustainable value innovation.

The timely encounter with INSEAD marked the start of his transition from the practitioner to the academic world. 

INSEAD’s first executive-in-residence

From August 2009, Perera-Aldama started visiting INSEAD in Fontainebleau as INSEAD’s first executive-in-residence (EIR) of the ISIC. The EIR initiative essentially serves as a mechanism to enable lifelong learning for seasoned executives interested in reflecting upon their careers and passing on their experience to junior researchers.

Having started his career in Uruguay, worked in different parts of South America and pioneered sustainability advisory practice in the last 13 years, Perera-Aldama has witnessed the evolution of sustainability from the perspective of academia, business, and accounting and reporting over two decades.

At INSEAD, he was exposed to the theoretical basis of research, techniques and methodology, with the goal of defining a CSR-related research topic. As one of the few accountants involved in shaping the GRI (Global Reporting Initiative) guidelines, Perera-Aldama contributed to INSEAD as adviser for its first sustainability report in 2015. He became an interface between accounting practice and research. 

Effecting change from practice to research

Six years later, Van Wassenhove helped Perera-Aldama, then age 64, secure a place at the University of Burgos in Spain to start his PhD. Then a Professor of Technology and Operations Management (and now Emeritus Professor), Van Wassenhove accompanied his academic journey as co-chair of his PhD dissertation, which focused on the missing link between accounting practice and the needs of organisations. 

“Blending knowledge I gained in practice with theoretical accounting knowledge, and expanding and deepening the literature review I started at INSEAD, allowed me to embed the project in my financial accounting roots,” said Perera-Aldama. “It redirected my research towards redefining the conceptual accounting framework and integrating sustainability information into mainstream reporting through a value-added statement (VAS).”

In the course of seven years, Perera-Aldama completed his PhD centred on an integrated social financial VAS model to make sustainability an integral and central part of mainstream reporting. The idea is that we cannot make the change towards a more sustainable world if we leave the ways we measure and report business success unchanged.

The concept of research initiatives such as ISIC at INSEAD and their inclusion of EIR make impactful research at the interface of theory and practice possible,” said Van Wassenhove. “We need to rethink and reshape the social contract between business and society. This work is an important step towards a paradigm change in how we view a company’s performance and the value it creates – not only for shareholders, but also for society.” 

For more information on Luis Perera-Aldama’s proposed change in reporting, read the INSEAD Knowledge article here.