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  • Writer's pictureMarleen Wierenga

Martina Linnenluecke, Macquarie University, Professor

“I have always been driven by the question ‘How can I leave the world around me better off?’, and that has been a big motivation for setting up my research agenda and generating impact.”

Martina Linnenluecke, who is a professor at Macquarie University leading the Centre for Corporate Sustainability and Environmental Finance, sees impact as a multi-dimensional issue with various ways of engaging with stakeholders. First, she focuses on impact through teaching by setting up courses that bring issues such as climate change to the classroom, issues which in the past were not even discussed in business schools. Second, through events organized by the Centre, and by linking with the media, Martina also focuses on spreading knowledge to practitioners.

Generating long-term impact through teaching with Indigenous Australians

Martina believes that teaching generates awareness of the vast extent of global environmental challenges, and also provides students with tools to recognize potential threats and opportunities, and to take concrete actions. Ultimately, Martina aims to provide education that empowers individuals to create change beyond the classroom. “It is exciting to see how our graduates are translating the insights they gained through our courses into outcomes, be that for example, through changes they make in their jobs as sustainability managers, transition managers, or their work in climate change policy areas. It is exciting to see that kind of translation of research insights through the education experience.”

Martina also aims to have a broader societal impact through teaching. With colleagues from other Australian universities, Martina has set up a two-day training program for Indigenous Australians who are business owners or operators. Indigenous people in Australia are disadvantaged on a wide range of socioeconomic measures, especially those residing in remote or very remote areas. Australia’s Indigenous peoples have lower access to education, and enrolments of people with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds are low at universities. The aim of the program is to provide skills and access to quality education for those who normally do not have access. “We do this also with the hope that these skills are translated by the Indigenous communities so that they can set up their own training initiatives. Instead of us coming in and teaching our knowledge, the idea is really that we provide a starting point and bring in Indigenous knowledge, experience, and case studies to build an ecosystem.”, Martina explains.

Setting up the program has been challenging. The attendees come from diverse backgrounds and different levels of prior business experience. While some might have years of prior experience, others might have completed vocational or on-the-job training, and others might have no prior experience at all. Additionally, concepts such as ‘asset’ and ‘ownership’ have different meanings for Indigenous participants. Similarly, running an Indigenous or community business is different from the Westernized view of running a business. “I make it clear from the beginning that I am not from an Indigenous heritage, and I can only bring my experience and my background. We have set up the program as a dialogue, and participants can exchange their experiences, which leads to a rich exchange.” After the program, participants also stay in contact with Martina and the other faculty to follow up with issues and questions.

Disseminating knowledge about climate change to practitioners

Martina has always found it motivating to work on challenging research topics like climate change and resilience. She set up the Research Centre she is currently leading to look into different types of issues, including clean technology and ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) investing. The guiding question for the work of the center is how to foster the uptake of these kinds of practices, and understanding what they mean for companies in terms of financial and strategic implications.

The center organizes a seminar series and industry events to generate awareness on climate change. The idea is to engage both an academic and a corporate audience by discussing current knowledge and examples from work done at the Centre. The presentations are in a format tailored for practitioners and include recommendations and issues to think about. For example, one such event was with Dr. Michael Mann, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at Penn State, on the effects of climate change on institutional investors.

Martina has also engaged with media through newspaper commentaries, commentaries to the financial press, and writing for The Conversation. Martina sees this as an important communication avenue to get the research from our papers into the public sphere. “I have had the great opportunity to work with a wonderful corporate communications expert who has helped me translate academic jargon into things that would be understood by the general public. Our scientific findings need to be adapted not in terms of the message but in the way the message is communicated.” Further, Martina has also published a book, Research Handbook on Organizational Resilience, which is yet another communication and outreach channel.

Advice for early-career scholars

Martina offers several takeaways for Ph.D. students and junior scholars:

  • Create work that matters. “You have the chance to be known for a topic, so build a consistent agenda around it. It is easy to get sidetracked and anxious about what other researchers are doing, but if you focus on building your own expertise, you can go a really good way.”

  • Make yourself known. “No one is going to come to knock on your door, so you have to be the one putting yourself out there. It might be uncomfortable; you might feel like you do not have all the knowledge and expertise. It is important to make sure that people know you are the person working on your particular topic, generate that awareness that you exist with valuable insights to offer.”

  • Engage with a corporate audience. “Present to companies and also participate in corporate events, so that you can build meaningful partnerships with the corporate world as your career progresses.”

  • Persistence matters. “In academia, you cannot be discouraged by rejections or misfortune in publishing. Do not try to take things too personally, rejections are often not about you but a sum of various circumstances, including the competitiveness of the process. It’s easy to be discouraged from a setback in your career but only if you can recover from a setback quickly, will you be able to move forward.”

  • Seek advice. “There is nothing wrong with seeking mentorship and advice from experienced people. It is fair to admit that you do not know everything about everything and that you need to ask for help. People are often generous and share insights and advice.”

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